City boss Glenn Roeder admitted that he broke a habit of a lifetime at Ashotn Gate yesterday afternoon – by storming onto the pitch to confront referee Andy D'Urso for his part in Bristol City's 93rd minute winner.
Having produced their best away performance yet under Roeder against the Premiership promotion hopefuls, the Canaries looked all set to return to East Anglia with a point after Darren Huckerby's trademark 70th minute leveller had wiped out Dele Adebola's first-half opener.
It was the least that the Norfolk side deserved having dominated the game for long periods. Certainly once Lee Croft added to the Robins' growing discomfort after the interval, Canary keeper David Marshall barely touched the ball as cross after cross zipped through the Bristol box.
In the third and final minute of injury time, however, the contest took an extraordinary twist as D'Urso penalised Croft for handball despite the fact that everyone – including the fourth official – could see that Jamie McCombe was the real offender.
D'Urso, however, waved away the fourth official's efforts to correct him and from the deep free-kick heaved into the Canary box, substitute Steve Brooker headed the ball home at the far post to send Bristol City top of the table and to send Roeder into a blind fury.
“I've never, ever – in all my life – remonstrated with a referee after a game by walking straight onto the pitch,” said Roeder, after a defeat that leaves the Canaries still only four points above the drop zone.
“And I'm not pleased with myself – I'm not pleased with myself at all,” added the City chief, with his No2 Lee Clark appearing to get sent to the stands in the midst of the touchline fury.
“But that was how strong I felt about D'Urso's performance. Particularly the incident that led to their winning goal.”
Given that the Robins' last-gasp victory ended their five-game run without a win and put them top of the Championship with just five games left, Brooker's 93rd minute strike was greeted with wild delight by the home fans. It likewise sent Roeder wild.
“I've got the fourth official screaming in my ear: 'Glenn, the Bristol City player has handled the ball. I can clearly see that…' And that's before the free-kick's taken.
“He [D'Urso] even actually came over before the free-kick was taken. And the fourth official told him: 'It was a Bristol City player that handled the ball…' But he had gone by then. His lights had gone out. He wouldn't listen and the ball ends up in the back of the net.
“It's not acceptable. If a referee got that wrong on a Sunday morning pitch, he'd be cried down. If D'Urso can't get those simple decisions right, my God, where's he going?”
Roeder was well aware that he was sailing into choppy waters disrepute-wise as the Essex official found himself firmly in the sights of the furious Canary chief. Given the game had been played in the teeth of a squally gale, the storm that followed was wholly appropriate on a day of high drama – and, indeed, rich entertainment for all concerned.
Asked to elaborate further on the 'lights had gone out' line, the Canary boss managed to pull himself back from the verbal brink. Just.
“I just said his lights had gone out. That's it – end of story. You're not getting any more out of me than that.”
The fact that the Canaries ought, by rights, to have disappeared with all three points tucked safely away in their kit bag merely added to Roeder's thunderous mood.
Dion Dublin had smashed a thumping header against the bar long before Adebola tucked home the Robins' opener; likewise, Huckerby had had Adrian Basso at full-stretch with a left-foot shot from a smart tee-up from Jamie Cureton.
Stretched this way and that after the interval in what proved an enthralling, if rain-lashed contest, Dublin would blaze over from 18-yards, Cureton would just fail to capitalise on a near-post effort before Ched Evans drilled two into Basso's arms in the game's dying moments.
“I'd have been unhappy with 1-1,” said Roeder, quizzed as to whether his side deserved more from the contest. “You write what you want; you write what you've seen.
“But if you don't write that we should have won the game, let alone drawn, then you don't know what you're watching,” added the City chief, his fury yet to abate.
Was it your best away performance? “Easily. Easily. And they're going in the Premiership with luck like that.”
Was that a consolation, the quality of the performance? “No – there is none. We have to win – and we would have drawn. And I suppose before the game that would have been a respectable result – a draw. But the manner of our performance it had a win written all over it.
“Until, unfortunately, D'Urso – let us say – decides to take a hand in it.”
It is not the first time that controversy has dogged the Billericay official. His most infamous moment came in a live Sky game between Southampton and Blackburn in August, 2004, when – with the game locked at 2-2 – D'Urso booked Rovers skipper Barry Ferguson. For the second time.
A soft penalty award then followed which James Beattie converted to win the game 3-2 – at which stage the fourth official, Keith Hill, pointed out Ferguson's 'escape'. D'Urso was suspended for 28 days and the following summer he was dropped from the 'Select Group' list by referees chief Keith Hackett. Re-instated on appeal, his once-rising star has since waned and he is not one of the 19 professional referees now charged with officiating Premier League games.
His name was also on Sir Alex Ferguson's lips just ten days ago when the United chief looked back at D'Urso's other moment of 'fame' – pedalling back at rate of knots as Roy Keane and others haranged him for a penalty decision at Old Trafford in 2000.
“We had a pivotal moment some years ago when my players surrounded Andy D'Urso,” Ferguson told the Press on the back of the whole recent Ashley Cole furore.
“I went off my head with them about that. I thought it was ridiculous and it never happened again,” he added.
“We tell them to shake the hand of the referee at the end of the game. It's sometimes difficult but they have to do it. In the same way if you lose a game we invite the opposing manager for a drink after the game. We do it because we think it's important. Life goes on.”
Life will go on, tempers will cool and the counter-argument remains: whatever the nature of the decision, the Canaries were still left with the chance to defend the set-play. Likewise, take their chances at the other end and Brooker's header might have been no more than a consolation.
But in the immediate aftermath of yesterday's high dramas it was clear that D'Urso's hopes of being invited in for a drink with the Norwich management team were nil. And if Clark wanted to shake anything of D'Urso's, it would be his throat, not his hand.
Roeder was reluctant to be drawn on that touchline fracas that – appeared – to end with Clark being sent off. The referee's match report should make for interesting reading; as will the assessor's – if the fourth official's version of events tallies with Roeder's.
“The fourth official [Danny Roberts] was consistently telling Lee Clark: 'Look, Lee, there's nothing I can do about it. I can clearly see that a Bristol City player had handled the ball; has knocked it forward; D'Urso's got it badly wrong – there's nothing I can do…'”
Was he sent off?
“No, no – there's no story for you there…” was the City manager's line. Not that anyone was short of a story or two…