In a farcical conclusion to the Nationwide League First Division match at Bramall Lane between Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, the referee Eddie Wolstenholme was forced to abandon the game after 82 minutes when, with promotion-chasing Albion leading 3-0, the Blades ran out of players.
Neil Warnock's robust side had begun to use up their substitutes as early as the eighth minute when goalkeeper Simon Tracey was sent off for handling outside the area. Substitute Wilko de Vogt came on, replacing striker Peter Ndlovu.
Albion raced into a 2-0 lead but just past the hour Wolstenholme sent off the United substitutes Patrick Suffo (for a headbutt) and George Santos (for a dreadful foul) after a mêlée sparked by the latter's tackle on Andy Johnson. There was some previous: when Johnson was with Nottingham Forest, his elbow had broken Santos's jaw.
As the match descended from fight to farce, Scott Dobie's second goal of the day made it 3-0 but then Michael Brown and Robert Ullathorne limped off to leave the home side with six men, and Wolstenholme had no alternative but to call off the game.
Gary Megson, the Albion manager, was incandescent. "There was a single person on their bench telling people to come off and go down, in the certain knowledge that the game would not be allowed to finish," he alleged. "The things happening on the sideline were things I've never witnessed before and that's why I went and sat in the stand. The referee tried to play the game in the right manner and he went with the rules. If the Football League do anything other than say the result stands they will just get rid of the sport. We will not be bringing a team to Sheffield for a replay and I don't expect anything other than them being severely punished.
"I've been in professional football since 16 and I'm 42 now," Megson added. "I've never ever witnessed anything as disgraceful as that. There is no place for that in any game of football, let alone professional football. If we are called back to Bramall Lane, we shall kick off and then walk off the pitch."
Meanwhile, referee Wolstenholme explained that "whether the result stands is entirely out of my hands. I will send a report of the match to the Football Association and a copy to the Football League." The League will decide at a board meeting on Thursday if the 3-0 score stands or if the game must be played again.
Warnock, the Blades' manager, insisted that Brown – "I was calling to him, saying Tuesday's game is more important" – and Ullathorne were injured. He also refused to comment on suggestions that his captain and player-coach Keith Curle, who appeared to aim punches at Albion's other goalscorer, Derek McInnes, was trying to get himself sent off.
The West Bromwich chairman, Paul Thompson, told BBC Radio 5 Live: "I don't think there was a commitment from Sheffield United players and officials to finish the game. When Michael Brown came off he didn't look injured to me – he was called off by the bench. The big issue is that the result should stand. Natural justice requires it to stand."
Asked what he expected the League to do about the shambles, Warnock said: "I haven't got a clue but whatever is decided is OK with me." He later added: "I've got no complaints at all with all three sending-offs. I was disappointed that Gary Megson had gone in to see the referee straight after the game and yet we weren't allowed to. But it's one of those things that we've just got to abide by what they say."
On the suggestion that Brown was not injured, Warnock commented: "I think [Megson] is clutching at straws, really. I don't really need to comment on that because it's rubbish. [Brown's] had an injury for the last six weeks. It's total nonsense."
Elsewhere, there was relief for Stockport County's manager Carlton Palmer. His club are relegated to the Second Division. David Connolly scored twice as Wimbledon beat County 3-1 to confirm a drop that has seemed likely for much of the season. "I knew six games into being in charge that we didn't have a team good enough to be in this division," Palmer said.
At the top, Wolves stumbled again in their faltering pursuit of the leaders Manchester City when they went down 1-0 at home to struggling Grimsby Town. After a goalless first half, shaded by the Mariners, Wolves had Kevin Muscat sent off and Andrew Todd struck the winner. Grimsby move out of the bottom three.
There was a setback for fifth-placed Millwall, too. They lost 2-1 at the New Den when Sheffield Wednesday's Simon Donnelly scored two in as many minutes and the Lions then had Leeds' Republic of Ireland international, Stephen McPhail, making his on-loan debut, sent off.
Back at the bottom, Walsall recovered from being a goal down – and a player down – against Barnsley at the Bescot Stadium as goals by Darren Byfield and Don Goodman earned a 2-1 win. Crewe also came back from a goal down, at home to Portsmouth, to secure a precious point thanks to Rob Hulse's equaliser.Reuse content