CELTIC’S 3-0 victory at Stark’s Park in the fifth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup yesterday hinged on the award of the 56th-minute penalty kick converted by Kris Commons who went down under a challenge by Simon Mensing – and the Raith defender was quick to protest his innocence afterwards.
Mensing said: “I thought the ref [Stevie McLean] got that one wrong. He went down too easily and I know that for a fact. I’m really disappointed with it. There was minimal contact, but Commons is clever.
“He was doing it during the game and you can see he’s a clever player. When they go one up they can relax a bit more so it’s really frustrating. He was doing it all over the park but what you can you do? You just hope the officials see it and don’t give it.
“That was the pivotal moment in the game. The longer it goes at 0-0 we always had a chance. The ref just said he felt it was a definite penalty. I would argue until I’m blue in the face that it wasn’t but it’s not going to change anything.
“We could possibly have had a penalty in the first half when Joe Ledley pushed Jason [Thomson]. But I didn’t think we got much at all today. If we’d have got that and gone one up, things would have been in our favour.
“But I think 3-0 is harsh on us because we defended well as a team and our gameplan worked. Unfortunately we’ve been outdone by a penalty.”
Commons was relaxed in his response when told of Mensing’s views. “He tripped me up in the box and it’s something you can’t do,” Commons said. “You can’t trip players in the box. There was definite contact with my right foot.
“If he got the ball then fair enough, but he didn’t so I don’t know what he expects me to do. I said before the game that I would take it, I have scored my last two.
“I think their ’keeper analysed my penalties too much because I don’t think he moved and I slotted it nicely.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon did have some conditional sympathy for Mensing, however.
“I didn’t get a great view of it and I might agree with Simon,” said Lennon. “I’ve not seen it again yet. It did look soft. But I thought we could have had a penalty in the first half for what looked a clear handball [by Eddie Malone].
“This is the grey area with handball in the game. It is obviously down to the referee’s discretion. I’ve seen penalties given for a lot less clear handball incidents than that.
“But we got the penalty when we did and Kris stuck it away great. It pleased me to see him put his laces through the ball. That’s the way I like to see them taken. They are very hard to save, low and hard to the corner.
“The pitch was very heavy today with gusty conditions ,which made it difficult to gauge which way the wind was blowing at times.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but we needed to go a little bit more direct just to take the pitch out of play.
“I thought we started the game really well and it was a good, professional performance. I felt that the game would open up for us when we got the first goal and thankfully it did.”
Raith Rovers manager Grant Murray had no complaints about the outcome or with his own team’s contribution to the tie.
“You are disappointed to lose any game, no matter who the opposition are, but we have lost to a Champions League quality team today,” said Murray.
“There’s no criticism of our guys whatsoever, they put everything they had into the game. You know Celtic are going to have a lot of possession but the first part of the job was done, getting to half-time at 0-0. The hardest part was keeping that going in the second half.
“I’ve not seen the penalty incident again. My first thought was that there wasn’t a lot in it and not many of the Celtic players claimed for it, but Stevie McLean has a decision to make and sees it as it is. Even at 1-0 down, we created some chances and had a go at them. But they showed quality in the closing stages and cut us open.”