1 Jan 2016

Lack of red card over headbutt annoys Merrick

3:53 pm on 1 January 2016

Furious Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has described Roy O'Donovan's headbutt on Manny Muscat as "going back to the dark ages", saying he's never seen anything so blatant on a football field.

Ernie Merrick

Ernie Merrick Photo: Photosport

Central Coast striker O'Donovan is set to face the ire of the match review panel for his nasty act during the second half of the Mariners' 3-1 mauling of the Phoenix in Gosford on New Year's Eve.

O'Donovan is likely to cop a lengthy ban at the judiciary, under the obvious error rule - as the officials missed what should have been a straight red card for the headbutt.

Muscat's also reportedly been cited over the incident.

Referee Kris Griffiths-Jones seemingly missed the headbutt that sparked a brief all-in melee and came moments after Muscat had raised his elbow to O'Donovan's head.

But instead of sending O'Donovan off, Griffiths-Jones showed the Irishman a yellow card - one of nine in the feisty affair.

"I don't understand how someone can get away with that," an irate Merrick said afterwards.

"That's going back to the dark ages. I've never seen that so blatantly happen.

"That was the most disgusting thing I've seen in a while."

Merrick labelled as "poor officiating" the lack of penalty calls and one-sided yellow card count against his side in their 3-0 defeat in Adelaide the previous game - and the coach's opinion of the referees has only hardened after the Gosford debacle.

"If the roles were reversed and Manny Muscat did that, he'd get life," Merrick said.

Merrick said he was surprised that Muscat's also set to appear before the judiciary.

"I don't know why Manny Muscat would be cited, I'm sure it's something to do with O'Donovan being hit with a flailing arm. If you look at the video, all Manny did was protect and defend the ball and shield the ball, he was only looking at the ball, he was controlling the ball.

"If you look at the headbutt, it was off the play, the player came at him from the side, only looked at Manny Muscat - and that had nothing to do with the game of football.

"Very disappointed by the quality and standard of officiating... two games in a row."

See how the match unfolded here

Phoenix star Roly Bonevacia is the most-fouled player in the A-League - here seen injured in the Western Sydney Wanderers match at Westpac Stadium, 28 December 2014. Photo.: Grant Down / www.photosport.co.nz

Phoenix star Roly Bonevacia is the most-fouled player in the A-League Photo: Photosport

Merrick also lashed out at the opposition's treatment of his star midfielder cum striker Roly Bonevacia.

"Roly Bonevacia now is a targeted player. One player fouled him last night six times and didn't get a yellow card til the 89th minute. He was just one of several players so now Roly Bonevacia is targeted, and it works, they all take turns at fouling him."

Bonevacia was himself yellow-carded and, along with Spanish midfielder Alex Rodriguez, will now have to sit out the Phoenix's next match against the Brisbane Roar in Wellington on Sunday week.

That's because both the cards were the fifth yellow for the players, and so incur an automatic one-game ban.

Mariners coach Tony Walmsley said he hadn't see O'Donovan's headbutt, but would look at it and deal with it internally if need be.

Merrick also lamented the way Wellington lost the match.

While he admitted his side lacked impetus up front during the first half, he thought some decisions against them were unfair and said a questionable first-half penalty against Muscat killed their chances.

Muscat was judged by Griffiths-Jones to have brought down Josh Rose in the box in the 27th minute, resulting in the Mariners' first goal.

Replays showed him appearing to successfully win the ball, but the decision had been made and Fabio Ferreira duly converted from the spot.

"It was a clean tackle," Merrick said.

"Manny Muscat's got a reputation, but not since I've been at the club - he's changed completely."

Central Coast coach Tony Walmsley said he couldn't tell whether the penalty was legitimate, but was happy to take it.

"We'll take anything we can get at the moment," Walmsley said.

The headbutt incident soured an otherwise absorbing show, enjoyed by a crowd of 10,073.

Depending on other results, injury-ravaged Wellington could well slip out of the top six before this round is through.

As well as being without key players Bonevacia and Rodriguez, Phoenix striker Roy Krishna, who injured his ankle, may be missing for the home game on the 10th.

For all the controversy and niggle, New Year's Eve was a night to celebrate for the last-placed Mariners, who finally notched their second win of the season and just their first in 11 matches - nearly three months.

- AAP, RNZ

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.