Hatters boss Paul Buckle was left fuming by referee Lee Swabey’s performance as his side went down to a 3-2 home defeat against Braintree Town on Tuesday night, writes Mike Simmonds.
The official incensed the Town manager by booking Stuart Fleetwood for supposedly diving in the penalty area on 13 minutes, then dismissing the striker just before the half hour mark for what he deemed was a two-footed challenge.
On the first incident that saw Fleetwood go to ground after tangling with defender Adam Bailey-Dennis, Buckle said: “I thought it was a blatant penalty, I really did.
“He’s got the wrong side of the player, the player knew it and he’s dragged him down.
“He’s been booked for diving when he’s got a six foot four centre-half who he’s got the wrong side of, is desperate to get back goalside of him, and he’s gone down in the box.
“I’ve not had any players booked for diving since I’ve been at the football club and I was amazed it wasn’t a penalty. To not give it is bad enough, but to book Stuart, I can’t comment.”
To make matters worse, Fleetwood was then sent off on 27 minutes for a late challenge on James Mulley, despite the whistle having already gone as the striker had won a free-kick.
Buckle continued: “No-one jumped in the air, the bench hasn’t come off.
“Player reactions give you the biggest clue whether something is bad and I’ve seen enough tackles to last me a lifetime.
“I was astonished to see the red card, he’s astonished every single person including them and given them the biggest leg-up ever.
“We’re proud of the way we did our work, the football we’re playing and the way we conduct ourselves. To see Stuart get sent off like that was a pathetic decision.”
The boss even felt there was a huge element of doubt over Braintree’s second goal, tucked home by Sean Marks, after Ronnie Henry chose to leave a long ball over the top.
He said: “I thought it was offside, I really did think he was well offside.”
The winner when it arrived was Town’s achilles heel once more though as mammoth centre-half Matt Paine was left unmarked to nod home from a corner, Iron’s first of the night.
Buckle said: “We didn’t organise quickly enough for the set play.
“When you’re down to 10 men like we were and we’re going for it, we didn’t have the height on the pitch, but we needed to regroup a bit.
“The players needed to get together out there, we’ve left (Yaser) Kasim with the biggest player on the pitch so we’re responsible for that.”
Despite playing over an hour with 10 men, Hatters came back from 2-0 down to level at 2-2 and if anything, looked the most likely to take three points until Paine’s 65th minute winner sucked the life out of them.
Buckle added: “The work-rate and the effort of the players and supporters gives me great encouragement.
“They got away with murder, with all due respect to Braintree, we had so many chances.
“We can’t fault the players for bravery, endeavour, skill, tempo and Braintree were holding on for dear life the majority of the game.
“If we continue in that vein we’ll go on a good, long unbeaten run.
“It’s disappointing it’s come to an end, when there’s so much that in my opinion shouldn’t have gone on.
“It’s arguably the best we’ve played, they’ve (Braintree) got in my opinion more than they deserve. Sometimes in a season it goes like that, these games get thrown up against you.
“We’ve just got to literally dust ourselves down and move on because there was so many positives.”
For all the latest Luton Town FC news, reports, stats, player profiles, live match updates, MOM poll, prediction table and a complete fixture list, visit our Hatters Microsite.