Furious City chief Paul Lambert looks set to find himself in hot water with the Football Association after being banished to the stands in the midst of a fiery 3-3 draw with Reading this evening.
At the centre of the storm was referee Michael Oliver who not only dismissed Lambert from the touchline, but also handed a red card to Canary skipper Grant Holt – a decision the Canary chief would label as ‘ludicrous’ afterwards.
It all helped shape a right roller-coaster of a game for the gleeful Sky cameras, as the Canaries saw a 3-1 lead slip through their fingers.
The fact that Reading’s third goal came from the penalty spot after a spot of theatrics from striker Shane Long merely ensured that Lambert’s fury knew few bounds as the Norfolk side slipped down to eighth into the table on the back of their second away draw of the week.
“At 3-1 I thought we were excellent – we looked threatening every time we went forward,” said Lambert afterwards.
Full-back Russell Martin had set the ball rolling goals-wise; Holt poached the second, before Chris Martin pulled out a trade-mark free-kick for the third.
At that point any manager might have been forgiven for thinking that a job was all-but done. Three goals away from home… should yield three points, right? Alas, the Canaries had reckoned without the intervention of Mr Oliver.
Lambert had been left less-than-amused by officialdom in the 2-2 draw with Burnley last weekend; seven days later and Norwich had a new public enemy No1.
“The sending off was ludicrous – a shocking, shocking decision,” Lambert told the BBC, after Holt had barely touched Royals defender Iain Harte with a likewise barely late challenge.
Lambert had clearly seen the video evidence – both at half-time and again at the end. His verdict remain unaltered.
“Shocking – just shocking,” he complained. “We could be here till 2018 and we still wouldn’t get a decision out of him.”
At 25-years-old, age wasn’t on the luckless Oliver’s side; the game was in danger of slipping out of his control as tempers frayed and decisions went this way and that – with little by the way of rhyme or reason.
“If you’re not good enough to do it – don’t do it,” said Lambert, in no mood to give the official the benefit of the doubt. ‘Learning curve,’ was not two words to throw the Norwich manager’s way.
“It’s not just our game – I’ve seen games where he’s done it before…” The implication was obvious; that these games were too big for the relatively young man in the middle; too much was at stake for professional people to rely on his decision making.
Lambert saw red as he headed to the touchline to check on the well-being of Korey Smith; clattered by a challenge far in excess of that for which Holt was dismissed.
“It was the fourth official,” said Lambert, with events likely now to be re-visited by the FA once they have the referee’s report in their hands. And that of the watching match assessor.
Whether Holt’s red card will be over-turned and Lambert’s dismissal from the touchline rescinded remains to be seen. The FA tend – all too often – to look after their own on occasions like this.
Given the fact that the Canaries played half the game with ten men, a point is not to be sniffed at. That, it appeared, was of little consolation to Lambert who knew his side were cruising at 3-1.
“At 11 v 11, we were the better side – we were looking threatening at every opportunity we had,” said the City chief, who opted to keep faith with both Martin and winger McNamee after that 1-1 draw at the New Den in mid-week.
Wes Hoolahan and Simeon Jackson found themselves on the bench as Andrew Crofts made a swift return to the starting XI following his one-match ban.
Lambert confirmed that they would be appealing against Holt’s red card – a straight red that could sideline the skipper for up to three games should their lordships not see sense.
“I’ve seen it again loads of times and it’s pathetic,” was Lambert’s simple verdict. Canary keeper John Ruddy deserves credit for ensuring City did at least head home this evening with something to show for their efforts – a big save onto the post to deny Simon Church put Reading’s fight-back on hold.
For a while, at least. Simon Lappin was the one to fall foul of Mr Oliver again when he was adjudged to have upended Long in the Canary box for the penalty.
But given the sense of outrage that followed City into battle for much of the second period, it is testament to the Canaries’ resolve under Lambert’s charge that they did not fold completely and let three become four.
In the heated circumstances, a point was still a point. Whatever tricks Mr Oliver had up his sleeve.