Smith wrong to refer to referee row, says Wilson

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The Independent Football

Celtic defender Mark Wilson has hit back at the outgoing Rangers manager Walter Smith's comments suggesting the Hoops were the catalysts for a controversy-filled season by questioning the authority of match officials.

Smith's final game in charge at Ibrox was last Sunday's 5-1 win over Kilmarnock which secured the Scottish Premier League title for Rangers by one point from Old Firm rivals Celtic.

The 63-year-old, who was taking his 10th championship, then said he was pleased to be leaving Scottish football, believing Celtic's contentious relationships with both match officials and the Scottish Football Association had overshadowed the whole season.

Wilson disputed Smith's claims, defending Celtic's stance. "If I won the league I'd just be delighted my team had won the league instead of having a parting shot," the defender said. "It's disappointing looking back at the end of the season that the Rangers manager, who has been hugely successful at Ibrox, ending on the final day winning the championship, still feels he has to point the finger at something instead of just enjoying the success he's had.

"It was the referees' problem. It's just unfortunate that it was our club at the centre of it. We were right to defend ourselves in the way we did."

Wilson referred back to the match at Dundee United on 17 October, when Celtic had a penalty controversially rescinded during their 2-1 win, and the subsequent fallout led to the referee Dougie McDonald admitting to lying to Celtic's manager, Neil Lennon.

After analysis of the events at Tannadice, claim and counter-claim, McDonald accepted responsibility and resigned. Scottish officials were subject to heightened scrutiny and in November they opted to strike, upset at questions over their honesty and integrity.

Wilson felt it was unfair for Celtic, who successfully challenged a touchline ban on Lennon, to be deemed culpable. Wilson added: "When you look back – I think Walter Smith will agree, everybody will – a referee lost his job for lying to the manager at Tannadice.

"That's what kicked it off and it went on from there with the referees' strike. It was a poor part of the season. We didn't like it, as much as any other team in the league didn't like it. Every club and manager is critical of referees when they feel they've got a point. I just feel the evidence has come out that we were in the right at that time. I don't think we set the tone for it."

Wilson agreed with Smith's assertion that the focus went away from football, but he denied Celtic had been at fault. "I don't see how that can be blamed on our club," he added. "He has got a point – the focus did go away from football – but I don't think he should be pointing the finger at any club. It's kind of disappointing that he's left saying things like that."