London Colney 2-1 Bethnal Green United: Justin Gardner sees red over FA Vase exit
Bethnal Green United boss Justin Gardner has launched a stinging attack on referee Mark Engelbrechtson after his side were knocked out of the FA Vase at London Colney
London Colney 2-1 Bethnal Green United
FA Vase first round
By JONATHAN CLEGG
Bethnal Green United boss Justin Gardner has launched a stinging attack on referee Mark Engelbrechtson after his side were knocked out of the FA Vase at London Colney.
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The Greens finished with nine men at the Hertfordshire club's County Ground stadium, while Gardner was sent to the dressing room after tensions boiled over when the home side were awarded a controversial second-half penalty.
The 2-1 defeat saw Bethnal Green's maiden appearance in the national competition come to an end at the first round proper stage, after the East End club successfully negotiated two qualifying rounds.
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Yet Gardner pointed an accusing finger at referee Engelbrechtson, who showed straight red cards to goalkeeper Ashley King and striker Anton Stephenson in a performance that incensed the United manager.
"What happened to us on Saturday was a disgrace. The referee made totally, totally wrong decisions and it can't be explained away," Gardner said.
"I make mistakes in my job - I'm sure everyone does. But some of the decisions he made on Saturday were more than that - it's cheating, that's the only thing you can say.
"He's not fit to wear a referee's uniform. He's ruined our Wembley dream - I know it's still the early rounds, but if we'd got through that game and received a couple of home draws, I firmly believe we would've gone far in that competition. But the referee killed us."
Gardner's anger stemmed from a three-minute spell in the second half that saw London Colney awarded a contentious penalty and Bethnal Green reduced to nine men for the final 35 minutes.
The two sides had been level after the interval following a fractious first half in which Steve Willis's 44th-minute header from a Leon Ryan free-kick had cancelled out Shaun Murphy's headed opener for the hosts.
But the game turned on a flashpoint 10 minutes after the restart, when United defender Ajibola Olatunbosun attempted to shield the ball over the line for a goal-kick, only to be harshly penalized by referee Engelbrechtson.
Gary Simmonds converted the spot-kick but more drama followed two minutes later when United keeper King saw red for tripping Colney forward Russ Gallacher with an attempted clearance on the edge of the penalty area and despite the presence of two covering defenders.
The Bethnal Green players reacted furiously to the decision and striker Stephenson was dismissed for dissent in the protests that followed, causing Gardner to rush on to the pitch and confront the referee.
The Greens manager, who briefly threatened to pull his team off the pitch, was duly sent to the dressing room and United's fate was sealed.
Though Gardner faces disciplinary action from the Football Association, who had a representative at the match, and could be handed a touchline ban, he insists he has no regrets over his behaviour.
"I'm looking at a big fine and possibly a touchline ban, but I don't regret it because these people should be accountable for their actions," Gardner said.
"I work hard all week, my players work hard all week, and for what? When a 50-50 decision goes the wrong way, you can live with it but when you see a defender trying to shield the ball out and the referee gives a penalty, it's just beyond belief.
"I'm going to be in big trouble, but I'm actually glad the FA were there because they've seen that we were conned."
Though their nine men bravely held out for the final 35 minutes against opponents with a two-man advantage, they were unable to haul themselves back into the match as London Colney advanced to the second round.
Bethnal Green United return to Essex Senior League action with a trip to Enfield 1893 on Saturday (3pm).