INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle defender Josh Meekings expressed his relief and gratitude last night as he was cleared to play in the Scottish Cup final after winning his appeal against a controversial one-match ban.
The 22-year-old Englishman was offered the suspension by the Scottish Football Association’s compliance officer, Tony McGlennan, after officials failed to see his handball in Sunday’s 3-2 semi-final win over Celtic at Hampden Park.
Match referee Steven McLean was assisted by an official behind each goal as well as the usual linesmen.
The highly-publicised incident became even more prominent when the Parkhead club released a statement on Monday revealing they were “seeking an understanding” of the failure to penalise the Caley Thistle defender, who blocked a goalbound header by Leigh Griffiths when Celtic were winning 1-0.
However, an independent three-person judicial panel tribunal met at the national stadium and dismissed the charge – that the defender had denied Celtic an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberate handball – leaving Meekings available for the final against Falkirk on 30 May.
John Hughes, the Inverness manager, had earlier claimed the proposed punishment made him think about whether he “wanted to be part” of Scottish football any more but Meekings was delighted by the outcome.
After leaving Hampden via the underground tunnel, he took to Twitter to say: “Once again, would like to thank everybody for the messages and support given over the last few days. Back to business now, cannot wait!!
“I have seen the support from various clubs fans and I’m very thankful. I can look forward to the final now, and get ready for Saturday!”
McGlennan was widely criticised for bringing the case against Meekings and among the critics was Jim Boyce, the Fifa vice-president and head of referees, who said: “I can’t believe that they’re going to suspend a player for a handball.”
Dundee United striker Nadir Ciftci, twice, and Rangers goalkeeper Steve Simonsen have recently won cases brought by McGlennan and his latest notice of complaint led to Hughes saying it had made him “a little bit embarrassed” for Scottish football before following it up with a dig at the SFA.
I feel for the referees because their performance is now being analysed to the nth degree and I don’t think that’s fair on them.Fraser Wishart
“It’s taken the shine off our victory,” he said before the verdict. “So much so that I’m even looking at myself. If this is what goes on in Scottish football, I don’t know if I want to be a part of it. I’m serious when I say that.
“I’m really, really disillusioned with it and over the last two days I have just switched off my phone.
“I think the whole of British football knows there is a real injustice here. It’s unprecedented and so many people have something to say on it.
“I’m a little bit embarrassed. I think Scottish football is being dragged through the mud a little bit.
“I think there’s a wee bit more to it than what we are seeing. There has been plenty happening since I came up here, going back to semi-final kick-off times, playing Hearts [in a League Cup semi-final] at Easter Road in the middle of Edinburgh, I just think sometimes Inverness get treated with contempt.”
Inverness chairman Kenny Cameron expressed his pleasure following yesterday’s verdict.
He said: “The club is delighted for Josh that the Judicial Panel Tribunal dismissed the complaint brought against him. Josh will now be available for selection for the cup final on 30 May 2015 v Falkirk FC.
“The result means that the club can now fully appreciate the achievement of reaching its first ever Scottish Cup final and focus on preparations for Saturday’s game versus
Aberdeen FC. On a personal note, both Josh and I would like to express our gratitude to our legal team from Harper Macleod led by partner David Kerr who worked tirelessly to ensure a favourable outcome.”
Fraser Wishart, the PFA Scotland chief executive, had warned the SFA that it was creating a dangerous precedent.
Wishart said: “Players have no problem with video evidence being used for incidents that genuinely haven’t been seen by the referee. Maybe a punch behind the referee’s back and fly kick when the ball is away.
“But we think, if the rule has been extended, then it is now erring into re-refereeing into a game on a Monday.
“That’s not the purpose of video evidence. That’s why the English FA and Fifa and Uefa steer away from that. The referee could see the incident on Sunday, he just didn’t see the handball. I feel for the referees because their performance is now being analysed to the nth degree and I don’t think that’s fair on them.”
• Aberdeen’s Barry Robson lost his appeal against the red card for violent conduct he received in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Dundee United. He is now banned for games against Inverness Caledonian Thistle tomorrow and United on 2 May.