Warrenpoint Town manager Barry Gray showed admirable restraint given the circumstance post-match following his side’s last-gasp relegation to the Championship on Saturday.
Gray, renowned for his fiery temperament in the dug-out, pushed a number of his players and coaching staff away from surrounding referee Ross Dunlop on the pitch after the Carrickfergus whistler had awarded Dungannon an 89th minute penalty.
With Warrenpoint 1-0 in front and relatively comfortable thanks to a Stephen Hughes strike 13 minutes from time, they looked to have all but secured Premiership status for the fourth season in succession.
However, that all changed in an instant with Dunlop pointing to the spot after Jordan Dane and Dungannon’s Cormac Burke had collided in the box. On first look, everyone inside Milltown presumed he had blown for a free-kick to Warrenpoint before quickly realising Dunlop had bizarrely awarded a penalty.
It was a horrendous decision and television replays did nothing to alter that conclusion after the match. It looked as if justice had been done when Jonny Parr saved Ryan Harpur’s spot-kick and then two rebounds only for Andrew Mitchell to break ‘Point hearts when he fired into the roof of the net for the equaliser.
After calling a hasty board meeting at the final whistle to discuss the future of the club, Gray laid into the standard of top flight refereeing this season.
He said; “It’s frustrating. You don’t want to cry poverty about decisions, but the one consistency about this season is that the standard of refereeing from start to finish has been tripe.
“Every club will agree with that. Today another decision has gone against us with no accountability and no insight into what that decision means and they probably don’t care either.”
Gray revealed the club’s board had urged him to stay at the helm and want the current squad to stick together, but he was realistic enough to know that may well change in the weeks ahead.
“I think everybody needs to take stock after what has happened here. The board has spoken to the players and have indicated their support. They don’t want anyone to leave and they want me to stay as manager and they want to put every resource behind one season to get back up,” he admitted.
“That’s fine in one respect, but we have players, management and other people involved who need to weigh up whether the Championship is for them or not. That’s a decision for people individually and we’ll just have to see in the coming few days where we stand with it.”
He also reiterated the impact the refereeing decision could have on the small South Down club who have come through all levels of football in the country to earn their place at the top table.
“One refereeing decision could potentially wreck this club, potentially wreck this team. It has potentially wrecked years upon years of work, financing and everything else that comes along with building this club to come from Junior level to Senior level. That work doesn’t happen overnight. The potential impact it has on the future of this club is massive,” he explained.
“I asked the referee on the pitch after the match if he was 100 per cent sure that his decision was correct and he replied, ‘of course, that’s why I made the decision.’ For the life of me, I don’t see that and I don’t think any referee, if he’s honest, can ever say he is 100 per cent sure that a penalty decision is right or wrong.
“Referee’s do in this league and get away with it. A manager doesn’t get away with it. If I chose not to come out and explain myself if I’ve done something wrong, I would get fined and the league don’t pay me. In any private employment, you would get your P45 quicker than you could blink for consistently bad performances and referees have churned out this season.”