Football: Off day for the cause of discipline

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The Independent Online
FOURTEEN PLAYERS in England and seven in Scotland were sent off on one of the blackest days ever for indiscipline on the pitch. It was, perhaps, a suitable conclusion to a week when the debate on professional referees and the use of modern television technology to assist them in their decisions intensified and several high profile managers - notably Liverpool's Roy Evans and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United - offered less than flattering opinions of the present standard of refereeing.

In addition to the Premier dismissals of Paolo Di Canio (Sheffield Wednesday), Martin Keown (Arsenal) and Martin Dahlin (Blackburn Rovers), and Stuart McCluskey (St Johnstone) and Kjell Olofsson (Dundee United) in Scotland, Third Division Southend United were the worst offenders, having three - Julian Hails (two bookings after 24 minutes), Mick Gooding and Kevin Maher - red carded in their 2-1 defeat at Swansea.

In the First Division, Barnsley, leading 1-0 at Bradford City, had Martin Bullock sent off for a second booking on 76 minutes and lost 2-1 but Grimsby Town didn't let Jack Lester's 79th minute sending off disrupt their comeback. Trailing 2-1 at home to Port Vale, Darryl Clare scored his second to salvage a point. Vale's Neil Aspin then evened numbers off the pitch when he was booked for a second time in the 90th minute.

But let us turn from these tawdry doings to contented Celtic, where player rebellion, indifferent results and angry fans were scarcely eased by the dropping of more home points when Jim Hamilton's second-half equaliser gave Hearts a 1-1 draw at Parkhead.

On Tuesday, Celtic defend a 2-1 Uefa Cup lead over Vitoria Guimaraes and Hearts did not improve their confidence when, eight minutes into the second half, Hamilton connected with Neil McCann's corner to equalise Simon Donnelly's earlier strike.

For the second time in three days Celtic were jeered off the Parkhead pitch. "It is normal for the fans to boo at the end of a game if they are unhappy," Dr Jozef Venglos, the perceptive Celtic coach said. "But I was pleased with the way they had shown their support throughout the game. I cannot fault my players for their work-rate and effort. I am being patient with them. They showed spirit and determination."

Back in England, Wolves, without a win in six games and dumped out of the Worthington Cup by Second Division Bournemouth, played with three strikers against resolute Bury and the tactics worked. Steve Bull's 66th- minute header gave them a 1-0 win which lifted them up to fourth in the First Division.

Watford moved up to third thanks to a fortunate home win by a similar margin over Ipswich Town. But it came somewhat earlier through Peter Kennedy's fifth-minute penalty. "We played a team with better passing and some better players," Graham Taylor, the Hornets' manager said. "I could have just as well been talking here about a 3-0 defeat."

Birmingham City slumped to a third consecutive defeat when they lost 2-0 at Norwich City but Bristol City won their first First Division game since promotion when they scored three in the first half to set up a 5- 2 win over visitors Crewe. Oxford, mauled 7-0 by Sunderland last week, beat struggling Queen's Park Rangers 4-1. "A pathetic performance," Ray Harford, the Rangers manager, said, "the worst since I've been here." Says a lot, that.

In the Second Division, leaders Stoke City lost their first home league game of the season, Blackpool's Martin Aldridge scored twice in a 3-1 win But they stayed top. No such luck for Darlington, former leaders of the Third. They lost 3-0 at Brentford; Scunthorpe beat Brighton to go top.