A few minutes before the end of the game a Portsmouth shot ended up in the Newmarket Road End. U’s fans held on to the ball, whilst the referee – a certain Joshua Smith stood facing the NRE petulantly tapping his watch. The United faithful responded with a full voiced rendition of ‘The Referee’s A Wanker’ for what felt like a good two minutes. Were those extra minutes added on to the end of the game worth it for this display? Abso-fucking-lutely.
We’ve had some shite refs at the Abbey before, Trevor Kettle, John Brandwood, Paul Durkin, Gurnham Singh: all names that will send a shudder down the spine of United fans. Joshua Smith however, he takes the crown as the worst of the bunch. Combined with his suitably inept linesman they contributed to one of the all time refereeing horrorshows. I don’t like to be one of those fans who moans about the refs – they do a hard job in tough circumstances, mostly, and they tend to even out over the season. But Smith was a different level of shit. His standard of refereeing fell so far below what should be reasonably expected it’s hard to ignore it. From minute one he had no control of the game, and it’s only by sheer luck that no-one, especially James Brophy suffered a serious injury.
Bonner named a strong bench to complement the expected line-up, with Conor Masterson returning to QPR Jack Iredale continued to deputise alongside Jubril Okedina in central defence, flanked by George Williams and Harrison Dunk. Ahead of them, Digby and Ben Worman were the midfield duo, with Adam May in an advanced position that he’s quickly making his own. James Brophy and Sam Smith were in wide support of Big Joe Ironside. Liam O’Neil and Wes Hoolahan returned to the bench.
United’s first attack of note was finished by a handball in the box by a Portsmouth defender, obviously ignored by the referee and his idiot linesman. There had been another, slightly less obvious handball in the lead-up to Sam Smiths cross, but the officials saw neither. Controversy was again to follow shortly after as George Williams was assaulted by Marcus Harness, the resulting melee involving players from both sides, but no bookings until Sam Smith moved towards the referee in search of an explanation, only to be sent packing with a yellow card.
Chances fell to United, a Smith shot saved by the goalkeeper, but the linesman saw fit to give a goal kick and numerous other puzzling decisions including him missing James Brophy being about four miles offside before putting in a cross… hey, maybe he’s not all bad?
The second half started as the first half finished – shite decision followed by shite decision. James Brophy was lucky to avoid serious injury due to a late, flying tackle that even Stevie Wonder could have seen was a red card, then Sam Smith was fouled, but the referee didn’t stop the game, which led to Smith challenging a Porstmouth midfielder moments later. Tackles were flying in all over the place at this point, and any decent referee would have slowed the pace of the game, but our man in the middle was unable to. Smith and a challenging Portsmouth player landed off balance, the inept referee came steaming in brandishing a second yellow for Sam Smith, who couldn’t quite believe it and eventually left the field of play.
At this point the game took a serious turn as a U’s fan in the Newmarket Road End required medical attention. Dimitar Mitov furiously tried to get the attention of the referee and linesman who decided in their wisdom to restart the game and ignore the screams from Mitov and the NRE. Eventually the game was called to a halt as medical teams from both benches rushed to the aid of the fan. At this point the players retreated to the dressing rooms, and a hush fell over the Abbey whilst medical staff treated the supporter. Thankfully we’re told the fan is making a recovery and we hope they’re able to get back to the Abbey soon.
The match resumed after a fifteen minute break, again in much the same fashion as it was before – that being Joshua Smith making the rules up as he went along and penalising United for everything and anything.
United, now down to ten men, and up against thirteen fought resolutely and gave no quarter as they attempted to stem the tide of Portsmouth attacks, most of which came to nothing. Dimi Mitov was barely tested, but we still had to ensure we were focussed against a Pompey team who hadn’t lost in nine games. Harrison Dunk made tackle after tackle, and Paul Digby didn’t let anything past him. Sub Harvey Knibbs put in a shift defensively, as did Joe Ironside. For a while it looked like Josh Smith was going to allow Portsmouth to play on until they scored, but eventually he realised he was going to have to blow the whistle to give United a well-earned point.
Would we have taken a point before the game? Probably. Would we have taken a point after Joshua Smith robbed us of any chance of getting one? 100%. The EFL website shows Smith as being from P*terborough, and if this is the case then serious questions need to be asked as to why he’s officiating U’s games. We often joke about some imagined FA conspiracy against us, but after watching Smith’s performance you’d have to wonder if he was just that bad, or if he had a more sinister motive. Either way, we hope he never sets foot in the Abbey again.
We’re showing time and time again that we’re a team that can compete with anyone in this division, and we’re probably only really a couple of players away from being a side that will be comfortable here. We’re not quite looking over our shoulders just yet, but we do know that if luck does end up going against us and dragging us into a relegation battle, this team has the spirit and commitment to not go down without a fight.
Up next we travel to Newcastle, and with their current form we must be thinking we might be able to get something from the game. All the money in the world isn’t going to save them from the inevitable and whoever they end up giving half a million quid a week to in order to keep them up is going to have their work cut out for them. Can we beat them? In all honesty, probably not. Will we give them one hell of a game for ninety minutes? Damn right (as long as that B*ro prick Joshua Smith isn’t in charge).
Man of the Match: We could pick almost anyone really, from Digby to Ironside to Williams, but we’re going to give it jointly to Dimi Mitov for his fast reactions to the unwell supporter in the NRE and the Ambulance staff who rushed to their aid.
Soundtrack of the Match: Newmarket Road End – The Referee’s A Wanker.