Rookie ref William Ferguson totally ruined this afternoon’s St Johnstone v Celtic youth match with Stephen O’Donnell and Tony Watt both red carded by the baby-faced official.
Five Celtic players were booked during the second half alone with substitute Watt receiving two yellow cards before an injury time equaliser from James Keatings salvaged a point for Stevie Frail’s side.
The playing conditions at Tulloch Park were barely fit for Junior football never mind some of Scotland’s most promising young players with Ferguson’s sub-standard performance matching the surroundings.
After ten SPL matches Celtic had picked up four yellow cards with Keatings and Filip Twardzik ordered off for retaliating to brutal challenges away to Hearts and Hibs.
Within the first twenty minutes of the second half Lewis Toshney, Kieran Brennan, Matty Hughes and Watt had been booked with the former Airdrie striker collecting a second yellow for dissent with seven minutes left to play.
Watt was guilty of nothing more than contesting decisions, he never swore, but with a referee unable to communicate other than by issuing cards he learned a harsh lesson in only his third competitive Celtic appearance.
Ferguson is no stranger to controversy and incompetence, abandoning a recent Junior match between Luncarty and Newburgh in the 89th minute and phoning for police assistance.
As a Grade 3 official Ferguson hasn’t gone any higher in the game than being an assistant referee in the Third Division but the SPL is a full-time set up that deserves professionalism at every level.
A quick on-line search revealed that Ferguson is very much his own man and likes to act as if he is above the game and more important than the players.
In August 2008 he hit the headlines for abandoning a match between Lochee Harp and Downfield without telling either club.
Lochee chairman Jim Kelly said: “In all the time I have been in junior football, I have never seen anything like it. The players were all out for the second half but there was no sign of the referee.
“I went to his door to find out what was happening, in case he had taken ill or something, and that was when I found he was in his shirt and tie.”
On the pitch today Jackson Irvine came into the midfield to make his debut with Liam Gormley starting the match in attack after scoring twice on Saturday against Inverness Caley Thistle.
The uneven bumpy pitch made passing a nightmare with the small dimensions making it difficult to fire the ball forward towards strikers.
Midway through the first half O’Donnell was judged to have fouled a St Johnstone striker in the box with Liam Caddis converting the penalty past Robbie Thomson.
O’Donnell’s day went from bad to worse in the 42nd minute when he was ridiculously red carded for a run of the mill foul wide on the St Johnstone left.
“There wasn’t anything in the game, the penalty was a shocking decision, they put it away well then we lost a man,” Frail said afterwards.
“Stephen got sent off for a goalscoring opportunity 35 yards from goal when we had players going back- that baffled us.”
Celtic started the second half with Watt on for Gormley and set about chasing an equaliser despite being down to ten men.
Toshney, Brennan and Caddis were booked in a three minute spell before Celtic were awarded a penalty when Watt was sent crashing in the penalty box but McGregor’s spot kick was saved by the home keeper.
Watt was booked for disputing a throw-in decision in the 65th minute and was sent off with seven minutes remaining for challenging a free-kick given against him.
“We lost another player through indiscipline,” Frail added. “It’s a thing that myself, Tommy and Chris are massive on.
“We can lose it as well, you can get caught up in the game. It’s your job and livelihood and you want success but when you see some decisions that are unjust it’s not easy. We can’t have indiscipline but we’ve had the best discipline in the league over the last two years.”
Despite being down to nine men Celtic continued to push for an equaliser and got their reward in injury time when substitute Keatings lashed home a half chance after seeing his original effort blocked by a defender.
“We showed a lot of character to equalise with nine men,” Frail admitted. “The pitch wasn’t great but we knew it would be small and not up to the standard of Barrowfield or Lennoxtown, it wasn’t a football match out there if I’m being honest. We couldn’t get the ball down and pass it.
“With ten men we could have sat in on a 4-4-1 and try and hit on the break but we played a 4-3-2 because we believed that we could take something. I don’t think that Robbie had a save to make in the second half.
“Down to nine men we just decided to go for it. The ball went in from Matty Hughes, Bahrudin (Atajic) kept it alive with a good header, Keatsy lashed at it, it dropped to him again and he put it away with a great finish which was well deserved.”
On Saturday Celtic play Dundee United at St Andrews Sports Centre with the game kicking off at 1pm.
CELTIC: Thomson; O’Donnell, Hughes, Toshney, Brennan; McGregor, Irvine, Bagshaw, F Twardzik; P Twardzik, Gormley
SUBS: Watt (Gormley 46), Atajic (McGregor 67) Keatings (P Twardzik 77), Feely, Ordish, Jones, Herron