Alex Neil described referee Oliver Langford’s decision to show a red card to Alan Browne as ‘outrageous’ as his Preston North End side were controversially beaten by Middlesbrough.
The key moment came with less than ten minutes until the half-time break, and while the Lilywhites were a goal down by the time of the skipper’s dismissal, they had performed superbly until that point, with Scott Sinclair having a goal disallowed and Sepp van den Berg crashing a shot against the crossbar in that time, too.
It had only been a freak, unfortunate own goal from Jordan Storey that had sent Boro ahead, leaving the manager seriously questioning the outcome of the incident with Browne and Boro’s Sam Morsy, which led to his side being reduced to ten men.
Speaking to iFollow PNE after the game, Alex said: “It’s clear their player forearm-smashes Alan in the back of the head, he then swings his arm again and hits him a second time, and Alan naturally reacts because it’s meant.
“[Morsy] He’s right in front of him, it’s not as if he’s went like that [gestures arm] and put it across, he’s right in front of him and he’s came off the back of him. I just think for us at the moment, it sums things up. The fact that our player gets sent off in that incident, it beggars belief for me, and that’s the most disappointing thing for me.
“We started the game great, I thought we were really aggressive, on the front foot, moved the ball well, created some chances and big Sepp [van den Berg] hits the bar.
“Then we slice the ball into the back of our own net and I honestly don’t even what to say about that. It’s a mistake. At the moment, it’s things like that that are continually coming into the game.”
Alex felt that even had both Browne and Morsy been dismissed, such punishment wasn’t merited for his captain.
“I still don’t think that would have been the right decision. If one thing happens and you react, you probably say, ‘Come on’, but when it goes ‘Bang’ and it’s two separate instances, I just think it’s an outrageous decision. It’s cost us points and that’s the problem.
“It’s a natural instinct. It’s not pre-mediated because it just goes bang-bang, it’s so quick.”
The manager himself was red carded at the interval for speaking with Langford, and spoke of his discussion with the match official which led to his first managerial dismissal.
“One of the biggest disappointments as well was at half-time. I’ve never been sent off in my managerial career. I certainly didn’t approach the referee with any aggression, I didn’t swear or raise my voice.
“I just went on and I said to him, ‘You, in my opinion, have missed the two key incidents, with a forearm smash and somebody flinging their elbow in the way of my player. You’ve sent the wrong player off and you’ll be really disappointed in your decision because you’ve ruined our chances of getting a result in this game through missing the key action in the game, and you’ve sent the wrong guy off. It’s going to be really, really difficult for us to get anything out of this game and that’s your doing.’ Then he says, ‘You spend the second half in the stand’. I don’t know what to say to that.”
The manager could not fault the application of his players, however, and ultimately felt it was factors out of their control which led to the defeat.
“The fact is, last week [against Wycombe Wanderers], the first half wasn’t acceptable in terms of the effort, endeavour and determination. But I don’t think anybody could have labelled that at us tonight, even second half.
I thought we went out, I thought they fought, they tried, you could see the togetherness, you could see the fight that they had in the game to try to stay in the game and get something.
“But I think that other factors transpired against us and ultimately cost us any points, which is so frustrating because it’s hard enough to win points in this division by just playing a normal, level playing field game. When things like that happen, it just makes it doubly difficult.”
Watch Alex’s full post-match interview on iFollow PNE.