Football: Heath suffers rough justice: Phil Shaw sees some peculiar refereeing in the Turf Moor tussle that resulted in a Reading win

THREE days after Les Ferdinand saw red at Liverpool, Adrian Heath was left protesting until he was blue in the face after encountering another referee seemingly intent on proving that the law is a pedantic ass.

Come on down Terry Heilbron, a motor-trade executive from Durham who drove a bulldozer through the spirit of the game in the Second Division promotion tussle at Turf Moor. Five minutes from the end, he sent off Heath, Burnley's best player, for time-wasting. This bizarre decision was all the more perplexing for the fact that the leaders, Reading, were 1-0 up.

The former Everton man's offence was to chip the ball into the net from a few yards out after being caught offside. It was the instinctive reaction of a striker whose momentum meant he could hardly stop. If anyone was guilty of killing a few seconds, it was the Reading keeper Shaka Hislop, who could have stopped the ball.

Having cautioned Heath already for using an elbow (another odd one: 'Inchy the Bash' has neither rhyme nor reason) the man in black now had to brandish red too. Twenty-five minutes earlier John Humphrey, making his Reading debut on loan from Crystal Palace, was also dismissed following an innocuous brush with Les Thompson.

Their exits angered the Reading manager, Mark McGhee, a disciple of the plain speaking and flowing football of his old boss at Aberdeen, Alex Ferguson. 'There wasn't a bad foul in the game,' McGhee said, 'yet the man was booking people left, right and centre for trivial things.' He questioned whether the referee had even seen the Humphrey incident, and called his treatment of Heath 'pathetic'.

Heath's sense of grievance would not have been assuaged by the sight on Match of the Day of Vic Callow, who banished Ferdinand, letting Everton's Robert Warzycha kick the ball 30 yards after the whistle without reprimand. Burnley have a case for following QPR in protesting to the FA; the Premiership player should not receive preferential treatment because his misfortune came in a high-profile, televised fixture.

The only other occasion he was sent off in nearly 500 League matches, Heath recalled with a smile, he had to barricade himself in Everton's dressing-room to escape angry Newcastle fans. This time, Reading bolted the door on a Burnley side previously unbeaten and prolific at home once Mick Gooding had headed in after a move initiated by the outstanding Dylan Kerr.

With Humphrey facing suspension and regular right-back Ray Ranson injured, a Christmas period which pits Reading against second- placed Stockport and Bristol Rovers (third) in successive days will test McGhee's resourcefulness. Heath, meanwhile, is likely to sit out Burnley's trip to Barnet as a result of refereeing which might most politely be described as a waste of time.

Goal: Gooding (26) 0-1.

Burnley (4-4-2): Beresford; Monington (Randall, 65), Pender, Davis, Thompson; Francis, Joyce, Deary, Eyres; Russell (Mullin, 75), Heath. Substitute not used: D Williams (gk).

Reading (4-4-2): Hislop; Humphrey, Hopkins, A Williams, Kerr; Taylor, Dillon (Hartenburger, 53), Parkinson, Gooding; Quinn, Gilkes. Substitute not used: McPherson (no gk sub).

Referee: T Heilbron (Newton Aycliffe).

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