MK DONS chairman Pete Winkelman has pleaded with League 1 referees for consistency after he watched another of his players get shown a straight red card in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Swindon Town.
After Stephen Gleeson, Antony Kay and Alan Smith were each given their marching orders in Dons’ three previous outings this season, it was the turn of Dean Lewington to see red at the County Ground after the linesman spotted the skipper directing an elbow towards Simon Ferry just before half time.
It was a decision that split opinion in the stands. As Lewington picked up the ball to prevent a quick free-kick being taken, Ferry tried to retrieve the ball, but got caught by the flailing arm of the Dons captain.
And things only got harder for Dons as Matt Ritchie’s drilled cross evaded everyone – including Dons keeper David Martin – as it swerved in at the far post to give the Robins a deserved lead at the break.
Following Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth, when Smith was also sent off in the first half, manager Karl Robinson defended his side’s disciplinary record. And after Saturday’s defeat to Paolo Di Canio’s League 2 champions, Winkelman took over the post-match press duties to air his frustration at another red card, which in his opinion, should never have been.
“I want to congratulate Swindon Town – they deserved to win today,” the chairman said. “But we’ve suffered another sending off today, and it’s something I can’t really believe.
“We’ve seen another sending off after an apparent elbow from Dean Lewington, who had picked up the ball after a free-kick had been awarded.
“I’ve seen the video back myself – and I know referees don’t have the opportunity to do that – but it wasn’t even a free-kick. Lewington has held the ball, the Swindon player has come to get the ball back off him, like we see all the time up and down the country.
“But this time, he has grabbed Dean around the throat and he raised his elbow to keep him away. That was interpreted as a sending off, and I cannot tell you how much it changes the game, but it does.”
After three games, Dons have a full house of results – a win, a draw and a defeat – and sit 10th in the standings, although it is of course still very early.
However, without three first team players for the next game, their League Cup second round clash with Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday night, it won’t be until Dons play Yeovil Town on Saturday, September 15 that Robinson can pick from his full compliment of players again.
Both the manager and chairman have publicly claimed that only Kay’s dismissal in their League 1 opener against Oldham was worthy of a red card – but only because he was provoked by Robbie Simpson, who broke the defender’s nose in the build-up to Kay’s reaction.
And now with four in four, Winkelman is worried that these refereeing decisions may tarnish his side’s reputation.
“We are one of the best football playing teams in the entire league,” he said. “We are not a dirty team, we don’t play to get people sent off, we don’t play to hurt anybody, we try to play better football.
“But sometimes, it doesn’t come off, like we saw here today. Swindon, who were really good today, scored when we were in disarray having just lost our captain.”
Following Smith’s red card against Bournemouth, Robinson acted quickly to get referees in to talk to his players,
“We’ve tried very hard to look at what’s going on. We’ve had meetings with referees, we’ve had them in this week to analyse things, and we want to know where we’re going wrong,” he said.
“I’ve come to the end of a game that we’ve lost with huge disappointment, huge frustration, and I’m pretty upset about it.
“We accept sendings off when they are deserved. These others? I just don’t get it. This is really having an affect on us.”
And Winkelman added that unless he begins to see some consistency from referees, he is worried that Dons may be forced out of the promotion race before it has really had a chance to get going.
He said: “We have one of the best teams that we’ve ever seen at MK Dons, they have promotion set as their ambition.
“I think that unless we get some reasonable consistency in the refereeing decisions then I’m worried that it won’t be our season, and that would be a hell of a disappointment to me.”
A lot can be read into Winkelman’s decision to take the press conference and make his feelings known.
Understandably, he was angry and frustrated at seeing his side play for the majority of the game, again, with 10 men, but by highlighting to the footballing world that his is not a dirty side, those who had not heard of the streak before his interview certainly did afterwards.
Rather than have the chairman come out swinging in their defence, perhaps Robinson should have laughed in the face of the luck going against his side as we’ve seen in the past – as opposed to highlighting the issue for all the world to see.
Dons find themselves in an unusual position so early in the season – certainly not where they’d have wanted to be anyway.
Granted, back-to-back away trips to Bournemouth and Swindon looked as tough on paper as it proved to be on the pitch, but the unique circumstances they find themselves in now just means they’re going to be spend the next month playing catch-up to the early season pace-starters.