Hibernian manager Paul Heckingbottom said he was staggered to learn that the man who refereed last Friday’s head to head with Rangers had called Steven Gerrard to apologise for a mistake.
Worried that it sets a dangerous precedent, the Premiership newcomer described Steven McLean’s move as “foolish” especially at a time when officials are under the spotlight.
Accusations of preferential treatment have blighted this season and led to a special summit to try to quell the unrest but the Easter Road manager believes the latest “error of judgment” could simply fan the flames and he revealed he does not expect the same courtesy to be extended to him the next time a call wrongly goes against his Hibs side.
“I have never had that happen to me before. But I have not been up here long – so maybe they haven’t got my number yet!” said the Englishman, who welcomes Motherwell to the capital tomorrow for a key head to head in the ongoing battle for a top six finish. “But I won’t be expecting the same [treatment].
“He [McLean] shouldn’t be doing it. It was foolish. Was I surprised? Yeah, really surprised. I think it was an error of judgment and I don’t know what the leadership is or what the guidelines are but it’s not going to help. I can guarantee that, 100 per cent.”
Rangers manager Gerrard had been enraged by a foul that went unpunished in the build up to Florian Kamberi’s second half goal, which allowed Hibs’ to equalise and take a share of the points, severely damaging Rangers’ already-floundering title challenge.
Claiming that McLean had no excuse for missing the infringement, and insisting “that every single official on the planet would have given a foul apart from this one,” Gerrard, who has previously spoken out about claims that his temperamental striker Alfredo Morelos received special treatment and defended the number of penalties awarded to his side throughout the domestic campaign, added: “I will back referees, it’s a difficult job, 100mph. But a blatant foul five yards away, I can’t support that.”
But Heckingbottom, who has defended referees since he arrived in Scottish football and declared himself surprised at how much scrutiny the men in the middle were placed under each week, warned that every manager could pinpoint decisions in every game and said that refs would never be off the phone if they were to start apologising for every mistake they made.
“Why was it that specific decision?” the Hibs manager said. “What about every other decision they get wrong? They’re going to get them wrong and that’s my point but this is just another highlight being put on referees for the wrong reasons.
“Referees try their best, they work hard, they are honest, they are going to make mistakes. Get on with it. What they have to do is get stronger guidelines in how they handle those things – how they handle match days, how they handle decision-making and, certainly, not being influenced by what is being said about them or each other.
“This is another thing that’s going to be thrown at them now. I cannot believe he has done it, for lots of reasons.
“Where does it stop? Is it just the fact a goal came from that one? What about the goals that could have come from other ones? It’s crazy.
“Listen, if it was a quiet word when you bump into each other in the corridor and he said: ‘Steven I got that one wrong’, fair enough, we all make mistakes. But to phone someone up? I can’t get my head around it. If that’s what you’re going to do you’d spend 90 days talking about a 90-minute game explaining all the little decisions that get given.”