Glenavon boss Gary Hamilton is urging referee Arnold Hunter to ‘be strong’ in Saturday’s Irish Cup semi-final showdown against Crusaders at Windsor Park.
Hamilton is expecting the Shore Road men to impose their physical presence on proceedings, and has called for some protection for his players.
“Crusaders are a big strong physical side,” said Hamilton. “I watched them recently in a game against Glentoran at Seaview and the referee on that occasion was very weak.
“You need a strong referee to handle that type of aggression. That’s not taking anything away from their class. In my opinion, Paul Heatley is the best player in the Irish League at this moment in time.
“I’ve also been an admirer of Chris Morrow for many years. I rate him as the best attacking midfielder in the league. In fact, when I was at Glentoran, I used to urge the manager to out and sign him.
“I’m certainly not saying Crusaders are a one dimensional team, but physicality is a big part of their game,” he added.
“We’ve had problems this year with officials in some of the bigger games.
“We’ve felt that they have cost us results, especially at Linfield and Cliftonville and at home to Crusaders.
“That’s what it’s like when you are one of the so called lesser teams in this league. I experienced the other side of it when I was at Glentoran.
“You don’t get the decisions you get when you are at the top of the league for some reason or another.
“This semi final is a big opportunity for Glenavon Football Club. We don’t want to be coming away form Windsor Park on Saturday night saying that the officials cost us the game,” said Hamilton.
“If we are beaten by the better team on the day, I can live with that.”
Hamilton tipped his cap to the giant strides of improvement the Belfast team has made in recent years and believes it’s a blueprint for the rest of the clubs in the league.
He added: “Whenever I came back into the Irish League some, 12 years ago, Crusaders were relegated; now look where they are.
“They have set an example to all other clubs, including ourselves.
“Crusaders have very much been the best cup team in recent years. I know they have won the Irish Cup, but in my opinion, their victory in the Setanta Cup even tops that.
“They have won a lot of big semi finals in recent years, so they know what’s it’s all about.
“We will give it our best shot and hopefully on the day we can get the rub of the green. You never know.”