Football: Barnsley point finger at Willard

Referees on the run as fear of failure turns to violence; The disturbing incidents at Oakwell will certainly be investigated. The club, however, already know who to blame.
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BARNSLEY have vowed to take their own action against those players and supporters who were guilty of misconduct in the unruly events at Oakwell which prompted the match referee, Gary Willard, to seek temporary refuge in his dressing-room during the second half of Saturday's Premiership game with Liverpool.

The Yorkshire club are at risk of sanctions from the Football Association after six fans ran on to the pitch in protest at the Worthing official who sent off three Barnsley players during a highly charged afternoon. As he hurriedly left the field in the 67th minute, seemingly on the advice of a security officer, Willard was forced to take cover as coins rained down on him.

Behind him on the pitch the referee had left his linesman, both sets of players and two confused managers. After a three-minute delay he returned to restart the game which Liverpool won 3-2, thanks to an injury-time winner by Steve McManaman.

The FA, who seem certain to launch an inquiry into the shameful events after studying reports, will look closely at the official's actions. After the game the Liverpool manager, Roy Evans, and Barnsley's Danny Wilson said Willard had not helped the situation by going off and said they were left in the dark as to whether the game had been abandoned.

An official investigation and the loss of three players through suspension is the last distraction Barnsley need at this time as they try to focus on securing their Premiership status.

Their chairman, John Dennis, yesterday initiated the club's own inquiry, although he made it clear that one man must shoulder most of the blame.

"There were a lot of people in the ground and a lot of people will have had the chance to view the incidents on the television and I'm sure they will come to their own conclusion as to how Barnsley have been treated," Dennis said. "If I was to make public my true thoughts I would get into serious trouble with the authorities, so I will leave it to others to judge what went on. We have always felt it was us against the world and Saturday has proved that.

"Obviously passions run high, but the club has to seriously deplore any lapse in the standards of behaviour and we will be making our own investigation."

The alarming scenes come just a month after a Sheffield United fan was jailed for assaulting a linesman at Portsmouth's Fratton Park ground and if found guilty it seems likely the Premiership newcomers will be heavily fined.

The former Premiership referee, Keith Cooper, now the national refereeing officer for Wales, said: "Perhaps the situation got to Gary a bit and I have certainly not come across anything like this before."

David Elleray, the spokesman for the Premiership referees, refused to criticise Willard and said that if there was a message from the Barnsley safety officer to say it was better for the referee to leave the field then he is duty-bound to heed that advice. "It is certainly a strange one, but until we know why Gary left the field it would be wrong to judge him," Elleray said.

Barnsley were proud of their record of not having a single player dismissed in Premiership matches this season. All that changed in a remarkable second half which began with Darren Barnard's dismissal for clipping Michael Owen's heels.

Willard has shown more cards (77 yellow and seven red) than any other top-line official but there seemed little wrong with the decision. However, when he dismissed Chris Morgan shortly afterwards for thrusting a hand at Owen, all hell let loose and a supporter moved dangerously close to the referee before he was wrestled to the ground by Jan-Aage Fjortoft.

That was the cue for Willard to leave the field, although Evans said: "He hasn't helped the situation by going off. That antagonised things rather than quietened them down. If they had cleared the fans off the pitch quickly and not stopped the game then there would not have been the hoo-ha that has resulted."

Neil Redfearn's penalty with three minutes to go appeared to have won nine-man Barnsley an unlikely point, only for McManaman to apply one last twist. When Darren Sheridan squared up to Paul Ince he became the third dismissal, a decision which brought more fans on to the field.

The chief steward, Wilf Lawson, a former police inspector and one of 191 trained security staff on duty, said: "I feel we did as good a job as possible, but even then I am still unhappy that five or six fans got on the pitch - one would have been too many."

Goals: Redfearn (37) 1-0; Riedle (44) 1-1; Riedle (59) 1-2; Redfearn pen (85) 2-2; McManaman (89) 2-3.

Barnsley: Watson; Eaden, Appleby, Sheridan, Redfearn, Marcelle (Hristov, 76), Bullock (Bosancic, 54), Jones, Barnard, Morgan, Fjortoft (Liddell, 73). Substitutes not used: McClare, Leese (gk).

Liverpool: Friedel; Jones, Babb, McManaman, Leonhardsen (Murphy, 85), Redknapp, Harkness, Riedle, Ince, Owen, Matteo. Substitutes not used: Kvarme, Bjornebye, Carragher, James (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Sending-off: Barnsley: Barnard, Morgan, Sheridan. Bookings: Barnsley: Sheridan, Bosancic. Liverpool: Babb, Matteo.

Man of the match: Redfearn.

Attendance: 18,684.