Alan Devonshire questions the standard of National League officiating once again

Remy Clerima was shown a straight red card in the 23rd minute of Maidenhead United's 2-0 defeat to Stockport County on Tuesday. Photo: George Tewkesbury

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Maidenhead United boss Alan Devonshire once again called into question the standard of officiating in the National League after two of his players were sent off in Tuesday's 2-0 defeat to Stockport County.

United hadn't started the game well and were already trailing to John Rooney's well-taken finish, but their hopes of taking a point, or possibly three, from the match were hamstrung from the moment Remy Clerima was dismissed in the 23rd minute.

Clerima claims he was provoked by Will Collar into retaliating, with the County player having punched him and stamped on his foot as they jostled for position in the area, but in kicking out at his opponent he effectively handed the visitors all three points. United had struggled to create chances in the opening 20 minutes and they barely laid a glove on County in the remaining 65 minutes, failing to have an attempt on target in the match, while United's keeper James Holden was regularly pressed into action.

That is, until the 76th minute when he was sent off for a clash with Alex Reid. He came rushing out of his area and jumped to volley it clear but in doing so he caught the head, or upper body of Alex Reid and the referee had little hesitation in going to his pocket and pulling out a second red card for the Magpies. Reid had already nodded the visitors into a two-goal lead from a 63rd minute corner.

With midfielder Ryan Upward stepping in between the sticks you feared another capitulation, reminiscent of United's first half showing against Torquay United, however, they held firm, and the makeshift keeper wasn't really tested.

United now face one of their trickiest games of the season on paper, away at Notts County on Saturday, a side who are yet to taste defeat and are safely nestled in the play-off places after six matches. After moving as high as third after their 2-0 win over Dover last month, the Magpies have dropped to 14th off the back of three defeats.

“I wasn’t happy with his overall performance to be fair,” Devonshire said of the referee's performance. “We’ve got bookings left, right and central, and even at the end there, Sammy (Barratt) has been smashed and nothing is given. I’ve said for ages about the referees in this league.

“It ain’t just him, but that was just appalling. With James Holden, he’s got the ball. At the end of the day if their fella wants to carry on going and goes into him, that’s his decision.

“We lacked quality going forward tonight, but I’ve looked at them, with their so-called budget, and both keepers, James and Uppy, haven’t had a lot to do. It’s not as if they were pummelled, making save after save. But as soon as you’re down to nine men you’ve got no chance.”

Frenchman Clerima told Devonshire he felt he was provoked into stamping on Collar, and Devonshire agreed with him that it looked like the County player’s actions were premeditated.

He added: “He (Clerima) said the player has punched him and stamped on him and he retaliated and stamped on his toe. But that’s the experience of the player and he’s got him sent off.

“We don’t do things like that.

“We weren’t great today, and listen, we’re disappointed, but I can’t fault their effort today. The referee doesn’t help. I’d like to bet that if we scored their second goal, and their keeper has ended up on the ground like James, it would have been a foul.”

Devonshire and his management team didn't look to have the balance of the side quite right, even before Clerima's dismissal. They were second best in the early exchanges and County might well have taken the lead before Rooney fired them in front in the 17th minute, the visitors capitalising on a woefully exposed backline.

They also looked toothless in attack, with Emile Acquah, Josh Kelly and Nathan Blissett failing to register an attempt on Ben Hinchcliffe’s goal.

It was therefore no surprise when Reid got the jump on Holden to nod home the visitor's second.

A few minutes later Holden was dismissed for his challenge on Reid after a footrace for the ball just outside of the area, and the referee deemed the keeper's follow through as reckless and United were down to nine men.

“That’s been seen as reckless so we could lose him for three games,” said Devonshire. “When you go to kick and clear the ball your leg does follow through. It’s very frustrating, and we haven’t got the balance right yet. I’m still working to get the balance right. It’s good for someone like Sam (Barratt) to get some minutes and Uppy’s had some minutes. We just have to see how we go now; we have Notts County next who are flying.”

A thoroughly depressing night was only brightened by the unwavering support of the Magpies’ fans - who at one point staged a fake goal celebration - and the sight of midfielder Upward donning Holden’s gloves and seeing out the final 15 minutes without conceding.

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