O’Neill claims Naismith ‘refereed most of match’

Scotland's James McArthur and James Morrison embrace at the final whistle, while James McCarthy of Ireland looks deflated after being held to a draw. Picture: Getty
Scotland's James McArthur and James Morrison embrace at the final whistle, while James McCarthy of Ireland looks deflated after being held to a draw. Picture: Getty
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SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan and his Republic of Ireland counterpart Martin O’Neill found themselves at odds last night over the performance of referee Nicola Rizzola following their 1-1 draw in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Dublin.

Despite Jon Walters being in an offside position when he netted for the Republic and midfielder James McCarthy escaping a red card for a clear elbow in the face of Russell Martin, Strachan maintained the Italian official had excelled. That proved in sharp contrast to his predecessor at Celtic Park sniping about the official with a side-swipe at Steven Naismith’s conduct.

Strachan said he had no quibbles over any aspect of Rizzola’s display. “I’ve not seen it. I’m going to get back on the plane, have a cup of tea and I’m not really interested in whether it was offside or not.

“What I will say is I thought the referee was terrific the whole game. He knew when people were looking for fouls, he spotted that and there’s not many referees I’ve seen brave enough to do that. And I thought he helped the intensity of the game as well. OK, there might be one or two dubious but that’s going to happen.

“I’m not really concentrating on the tackles. The most important thing in that game is that seven or eight times we gave the ball away without real pressure. That was the big difference in the game and that’s what was relevant. We got about 12 crosses against us from us giving the ball away.”

O’Neill chose to see the encounter through green-tinted spectacles when it was put to him that Strachan thought the official had performed with credit. “I am not surprised Gordon thought that. Naismith refereed the game for most of it, so I am sure he did but it wouldn’t have been our view in our dressing room.”

Pressed on what he meant by the Naismith comment, he declined to elaborate before the FAI’s media officer interjected that the question would move on. O’Neill bemoaned not only the lax attitude of Rizzola but also the manner in which his team were pegged back immediately after the restart, leaving them two points adrift of third-placed Scotland, four behind Germany and five off Group D leaders Poland.

“I thought we were very dominant in the first half and deserved to be in front. We have absolutely fallen asleep for the goal even though it’s going miles wide just after half-time,” O’Neill said.

“I thought Scotland got a big lift from that, I thought their best spell was after that for about ten minutes. I thought we pulled ourselves round and I thought we were going to win. We didn’t and I am obviously disappointed. We didn’t really want half-time to come. I thought Scotland were in disarray at the time and we were in control of the game.

“The advantage is to Scotland because the status quo remains. They must be delighted to go away with something, but we are still well in the group and that’s not just fighting bravado talk. We have two games to win in September, away to Gibraltar and home to Georgia, and see where that leaves us going into the Germany game [at home, October].”