Neil Harris’ reaction to referee Jacob Miles’ contentious judgment that resulted in Davis Keillor-Dunn’s equalizer at Priestfield.
Neil Harris, manager of Gillingham, thinks the controversial refereeing decision that resulted in Mansfield’s goal on Saturday has left them feeling cheated.
The Gills dominated the first half of the League 2 encounter at Priestfield, leading through Macauley Bonne’s early goal before Davis Keillor-Dunn converted a fast free-kick.
Referee Jacob Miles had penalized Ethan Coleman for a foul, which Harris accepted, but as the official dug into his pocket for a yellow card, implying a break in play, Mansfield promptly took the free-kick and scored.
Harris held his calm on the sidelines, speaking with fourth official Aaron Farmer throughout the intermission before questioning referee Miles and expressing his own opinions to the press afterwards.
“It’s a tough one, and I’m not disputing the law,” Harris added, who had been pleased with his own team’s performance up to that point.
“There’s no debate, Ethan brings the lad down, it’s a foul, it’s a yellow card, it’s a good foul” (Mansfield had broken on the Gills).
There is no problem with the Mansfield players putting their hands on the ball and playing.
“The letter of the law is that he can put his hand on the ball and then play it; I told the referee, ‘that’s the letter of the law, but your actions as a referee with the whistle and the card, and with the gesture to book the player, makes it clear to everyone in the ground that you’re going to book a player.”
“‘You allow them to take a quick free-kick six or seven yards further forward from where it was given away, but his body language and demeanor has caused our team to stop and think it’s a yellow card.”
“I said that is taking the decision out of the game, and he then has to bring it back, and I spoke to him, and he understands that, and he needs to see it again and discuss it with his coaches.”
“The learning curve for us is that my young centre-halves have to expect the worst moment, but I can understand my team stopping and why they did it, I have not seen that for a long, long time in football, all my years, 25, maybe twice and I might not see it again, so it is very contentious, very subjective, but we are right to feel hard done by in the moment.”
Harris knew he needed to keep his calm since he could see the decision had affected his players.
“I decided in that moment that I couldn’t change it, and I didn’t want to get too emotional,” he explained. I could tell the players were emotional right away, and Scott (Malone) was immediately booked.
When a couple of younger players committed back-to-back mistakes, they lost their cool.
“I was trying to get the message to the senior players to stay calm and let me deal with it at halftime with the fourth official, which I did, and get an explanation to the rule, which fair play he did, which was excellent, he gave me the rule literally word for word.” He described it to me, and I understood some of it.
“I was quite calm; I knew I had to deliver my message at halftime to get us back on track, and it’s frustrating because the game swung so dramatically on that moment.”
“All I can try and do is articulate it in the best way I can, and understand the letter of the law, but football isn’t just about the letter of the law, it’s the man in the middle controlling the narrative and the storyline and today the storyline will be about him and had he pulled it back the moment he (the Mansfield player) passed the ball it would not be mentioned one bit.”
Nigel Clough, the leader of the opposition, saw nothing wrong with the goal.
“We got the ball and took a quick free-kick,” he stated. “I assumed it was still in the rules.” You don’t stop; you play until the whistle blows.
“I didn’t see anything against the rules in it.” I just assumed it was a flash of insight.”