Leigh Griffiths then scored in the 87th minute to win the game for Hibs. On Sunday, Rudi Skacel gave Hearts the lead, before Gary Hooper equalised, also in the 87th minute. There was more drama to come, when referee Euan Norris awarded Hearts a penalty in the last minute, after Victor Wanyama handled in the box, and former Celtic striker Craig Beattie scored to set up an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final.
But when the final whistle blew, Celtic manager Neil Lennon was incensed, and marched onto the pitch to confront Norris, shouting in his face and pointing his finger. After the game, it was first team coach Alan Thompson who handled the post-match interviews, claiming Celtic should also have had a penalty late in the game. Later in the afternoon, Neil Lennon took to Twitter to air his views on the game, where he said “Referee told players he thought Wanyama handled…feel so sorry for players and fans..I think it’s personal myself”, retweeted a Celtic fan who said that the SFA was run by ‘crooked officials’ and said that Gary Hooper was not offside for Celtic’s equaliser, despite replays clearly showing that he was.
Being critical of referees is not a new thing for Neil Lennon. After last month’s defeat in the Scottish Communities League Cup, when Celtic lost 1-0 to Kilmarnock, he said that referee Willie Collum’s decision to book Anthony Stokes for diving instead of awarding a late penalty was ‘criminal’ and had cost Celtic a treble (even thought at that point, they hadn’t even won the SPL). Lennon was also sent to the stands at half-time during the last Old Firm match at Ibrox, after Cha Du Ri was shown a straight red card for a denying Lee Wallace a goal scoring opportunity. After the game Lennon claimed to be mystified as to why referee Calum Murray had sent him off, believing that he is entitled to question the referee’s decisions.
Lennon has already served touchline bans since becoming Celtic manager, receiving two last season after being critical of referees and arguing with Rangers manager Ally McCoist after a fiery Scottish Cup replay at Parkhead. That resulted in Lennon being given an 8 game touchline ban, although ultimately he sat out 5 games, with Celtic arguing that the bans should run concurrently. He also received a suspended £5,000 fine.
At the end of last month, it was revealed that the SFA compliance officer had written to Lennon three times in a week after his criticism of Collum and Murray, and then for talking about referees ahead of an SPL fixture with St. Johnstone. Now, just over a fortnight later, he’s publically accused referees of bias, and it is time for the SFA to take action.
In the hours following the final whistle at Hampden, an increasing number of Celtic fans also took to Twitter to abuse Euan Norris. Some wanted to know his address, and some wanted to cause him harm. When the manager of a football team is claiming in public that there is a refereeing bias against his team, some fans are going to start to believe it. Lennon should know better, but he seems to question the integrity of referees after every defeat. It is now up to the SFA to give Lennon a hefty fine and long touchline ban, or attacks on referees will continue, from Celtic employees and their fans.
Failure to do so would be a failure to back their referees, and having gone through a refereeing strike last season, SFA chief executive Stewart Regan cannot allow Lennon to go unpunished. Lennon has managed Celtic to their first SPL title in four years, but instead of enjoying that success and learning to take a defeat with dignity, he is bringing the Scottish game into disrepute. The SFA cannot allow him to continue in this fashion, so they must force him to end the season in the stands, and begin the 2012-13 season there too.
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