'Be prepared' - Celtic and Rangers warned referees could decide title race

John Hartson has denounced referee Nick Walsh in coruscating fashion for the “unbelievable” “disgrace” of overruling his assistant and the fourth official in erroneously awarding a corner from which Celtic netted their opener in the 3-1 victory at Livingston on Sunday.

And the former Celtic striker believes “we have to be prepared” for the possibility that refereeing decisions could settled the outcome of the title race – ruefully remembering that Celtic hopes of silverware in the 2003 League Cup final against Rangers were undermined by his having a goal wrongly rule out for offside in the 2-1 defeat.

Hartson, though, sees straw-clutching in believing that favourable calls on Sunday allowed Ange Postecglou’s men to restore a three point advantage over the Ibrox side at the summit of the cinch Premiership across an afternoon when a resounding performance could have led to them scoring “seven”.

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However, he was more enraged than even Livingston manager David Martindale over what preceded Daizen Maeda’s 17th minute opener that followed a corner awarded after Anthony Ralston knocked the ball out when it came off his arm as he was challenged by Jason Holt on the byline. Assistant Frank Connor running the line at that side and fourth official Bobby Madden both communicated to Walsh that a goal-kick should have been the outcome but the official chose to ignore his team.

John Hartson previews the Scottish Cup quarter-final between Dundee United and Celtic, which will be shown live on Premier Sports. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

“That’s a disgrace from the referee,” said Hartson. “The linesman can see it. That’s not acceptable. That is unbelievable. Unbelievable. That is an incredible thing for a referee to do. If I’ve got somebody in my corner to help me, and he’s seen it and got a better view of it than I have, surely I’m using his help? Using that extra pair of eyes. I can’t believe that’s happened, really. But other than that, you think about the game and the performance and the result, and it could have been seven. You are clutching at straws really going on about the [Tom] Rogic handball. The ball was whacked at his hand - how do you get your hand out of that? If he is running and the ball smashes against his hand…Rather than talk about Celtic’s brilliant play, and how well they did, we are talking about refereeing decisions.

“You look at the television highlights [of the Rangers-Aberdeen game] and Lewis Ferguson was booked for standing in front of a player then five minutes later Joe Aribo does it and didn’t get booked. All of a sudden, where do you stand on that? It’s like everybody’s going on about ‘Celtic, they’ve got the referee again’ but obviously there is a foul in the build-up to Rangers’ goal against Aberdeen. Jim Goodwin said there was a foul by Calvin Bassey on Calvin Ramsay, and they go away and score. It’s tit-for-tat. Get the decisions right and there is none of this going at each other, and arguing.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if [the title race] was decided by refereeing decisions with the standard [of officiating]. I think we all have to get prepared for that. I’ve had it myself, two goals against Rangers. I was three yards onside in the League Cup final [of 2003]. I still feel sick every time I look at it. But I have let it go.”

John Hartson was promoting exclusively live Premier Sports coverage of Dundee United v Celtic this Monday from 7.15pm. Premier Sports is available on Sky, Virgin TV and the Premier Player from £12.99 per month, and on Amazon Prime as an add-on subscription.

John Hartson nets for Celtic in the CIS Cup final in 2003 only for it to be disallowed due to an incorrect offside decision.

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