Andrew Smith: Why Steve Clarke’s referee rant was unfair

We were treated to a classic at Rugby Park on Saturday. Alas for the healthy crowd of 6,531 inside the Ayrshire ground forced to watch a horrible clatter-fest that brought three Kilmarnock red cards, only a couple of dozen people populating the media room were treated to an unforgettable ?filleting. Steve Clarke’s cold, calculated character assassination of referee Steven McLean will be replayed over and over this week.

Referee Steven McLean brandishes his third red card of the afternoon, this time to Kilmarnock's Rory McKenzie. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

The Kilmarnock manager’s claim that McLean had delivered the “worst refereeing performance” he had witnessed in his career – “and it’s a long one” he said acerbically of his 37 years in the game – would have been jaw dropping in itself. To then ramp up his attack on the official with his inference that McLean could not be trusted to referee Kilmarnock games because of the “extra pressure” created for him through his father Stuart McLean having played so long at Rugby Park (he is a hall of famer with over 500 games) took it into new territory for questioning of the integrity and competence of officials.

Other barbs, he slipped in, stating that McLean “lost control” of the game, and his additional swipe delivered for radio that he had noted the referee was no longer on the Fifa list, were slings and arrows that, on any other
day, would have been headlines.

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Clarke has universal public support when it comes to the vacant Scotland manager’s post. His deliberate desire to place himself on a collision course with the SFA, who would be entitled not just to throw the book at him but the library for such incendiary comments about McLean, demonstrates he 
isn’t prepared to angle for the position.

In the final analysis, McLean probably didn’t deserve such a pasting for his performance. It might have been below par, but the conduct of both teams, who went for each other like rabid dogs, didn’t make his 
life easy.

Clarke said he will appeal two of the three dismissals – the pair of straight reds – that McLean meted out. Yet, these are unlikely to succeed. His contention that Kirk Broadfoot’s foot simply slipped over the ball when it jabbed into the face of goalkeeper Joe Lewis, who had dived at the feet of the defender as he sought to prod in from close range after losing control, was a one-eyed rendering of the 38th-minute incident. Broadfoot stomped down his foot in Lewis’s face when such a manoeuvre was plain dangerous.

The added-time tussle between Rory McKenzie and Dom Ball that led to the former being red-carded for kicking out at an opponent who had headbutted his knee – bizarrely – probably also warranted the ultimate sanction.

Clarke had no issue with Stuart Findlay going for a late, crunching challenge on Graeme Shinnie that could be season-ending for the Dons captain. The problem for McLean, though, is that these events all followed the on-a-booking Sam Cosgrove getting away with manhandling Findlay in the incident that led to the Kilmarnock man’s first booking. It came straight after the grappling striker had been cautioned and his sheepishly running away told of his guilt. Yet, McLean seemed equally sheepish in only pulling up Findlay and, in that instant, set a tone that carried on with Ball escaping for being the initial transgressor in the smackdown with McKenzie.

McLean was probably correct with three red cards for Kilmarnock. His failure was to leave Aberdeen with a full compliment when Cosgrove and Ball should also have gone. It was not lost on Clarke that Derek McInnes hauled off Cosgrove at half-time – what he was saying, suggested the Ayrshire club’s manager, was “that if he was the referee he would have sent him [Cosgrove] off” – and the fact the foul the striker won led directly to the passage of play that cost Broadfoot his participation merely further inflamed the sense of injustice.

Anger over McLean’s part in a damaging defeat – that was confirmed through a fine Scott McKenna header from a corner midway through the second period – boiled over from the stands. Killie fans, who now have failed to see their team win in the Pittodrie side’s past 14 visits, watched McInnes’s men take a three-point advantage in the battle – and by God, Saturday was a battle – for the Premiership third place that will guarantee a Europa League qualifying tilt. But the aftershocks could bring more problems than that.