Friend or foe? Ref fought losing battle

Chris LakeyNorwich City 1, MK Dons 1: Who needs enemies when you have a Friend like Kevin Referee Kevin Friend has taken charge of a dozen top-flight matches this season, but nowhere has his notebook been used as often as it was at Carrow Road on Saturday.Chris Lakey

Norwich City 1, MK Dons 1

Who needs enemies when you have a Friend like Kevin?

Referee Kevin Friend has taken charge of a dozen top-flight matches this season, but nowhere has his notebook been used as often as it was at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Nine players booked, another sent off for two yellows - Mr Friend had his pencil in his hand so often you wondered whether he was one of the many people inside the ground who have been working out what City need to win promotion.

'They can't do it at Orient on Tuesday. But if they win and then beat Charlton at The Valley on Saturday, even if all the other teams win as well, their goal difference is so much better it would be almost impossible not to go up.

'But if some kind of miracle all the other teams lost and City won both their games, they'd definitely be promoted next weekend.

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'Anyway, better get back to the football, I have names to take.'

The frustration that City and their fans endured in not beating MK Dons was perhaps replicated by that towards Mr Friend, and Paul Ince's team. Both were picky, annoying and seemingly intent on spoiling the whole affair.

Not every decision the official made was wrong, far from it: the Dons players who were booked can have few arguments. But once an official starts to wind up the home crowd with a couple of decisions that go against their team, then he's on a slippery slope. No amount of correct decisions will change that.

It doesn't help when you disallow a City goal: Mr Friend may have been right, he may have been wrong, although to book Chris Martin for the challenge on goalkeeper Willy Gueret seemed harsh - he hardly touched him.

By that time City, after a bright start, were a goal down, against the run of play.

Having seen Gary Doherty denied by a goal-line clearance from Mark Carrington and then a good tip-over by Gueret, who also used his legs to good effect to deny Grant Holt after a superb break by Russell Martin, MK Dons went ahead with their first real chance.

Peter Leven's corner on 20 minutes wasn't cleared by Russell Martin at the near post, rather his header simply flicked it to the back post, where Aaron Wilbraham knocked it over the line from a yard.

If City were frustrated at their missed chances, then the rest of the half was to prove equally annoying as MK Dons enjoyed their share of possession without really threatening. Mark Randall and Leven went into the notebook just before the break as Mr Friend moved towards centre stage with a spring in his step.

Gueret wasn't really tested again until just after the hour mark when a flurry of activity appeared to signal City's way back into the game. Holt stretched him with a shot from inside the area, but from the resulting corner saw his name added to the referee's list, having handled the ball. Quite how he could avoid it as he fell backwards after one of those penalty area coming togethers, I don't know: but that means he misses this week's games in the capital. It was a poor decision, but that didn't put off our friend, Kevin.

Both centre-halves, Sean O'Hanlon and Darren Powell followed - for fouls on Holt, although Powell had perhaps been lucky very early one when he used Holt's backside as a stepping stone after a tackle, but got away with it. It's not that we wear yellow and green glasses, but the MK Dons' yellow cards were deserved; his team, said manager Paul Ince, can be 'a bit petulant' at times. On this evidence, they're spoilers, niggly and annoying. The time wasting which had started in the first half with Gueret continued. When Leven was subbed he walked over to the official to try and shake his hand, and although it was refused you have to wonder why he bothered. But it was Mr Friend's refusal to play any advantage as the visitors committed foul after foul that was proving just as irritating.

With time running out, City desperately needed a break and on 82 minutes, when Declan Rudd hoisted a free-kick into the area, it looked like it had come. Doherty went for the ball on the left of the area and as it bounced up he hooked it goalwards - only for Wilbraham's raised arm to block it. Wilbraham had already been booked for handball, having knocked the ball away from Rudd early in the half. Holt had been booked for accidental handball. Surely this was a second yellow and a penalty.

Not a chance: instead, Mr Friend pointed towards the corner flag.

It was visible to the fourth official between the dug-outs, it was visible to anyone sitting in the top row of the Barclay, it was - like the Great Wall of China - visible from the Moon for goodness sake. Paul Lambert said even basketball legend Michael Jordan would have been proud of the effort - presumably that makes him Air-on Wilbraham after the great man himself. Any remaining faith in Mr Friend vanished.

Wilbraham was already on a booking for deliberate handball, when he patted the ball away from Rudd even though the whistle had blown for offside. It was a daft booking, but if that was a yellow, so was this

But his time would come - around eight minutes later, when City sub Oli Johnson headed towards the area and cut in front of the MK handyman. They clipped heels, Johnson went over, Mr Friend inevitably reached for his top pocket, and the visitors were down to 10 men.

That was no excuse for what followed: Chris Martin stepped up to take the free-kick, saw the gap on the end of the wall and went for it. This time Gueret couldn't reach it, and City had a vital point in the bag.

It wasn't the best 90-minute performance, but parts of it were as good as City have produced in recent home games. If Carrow Road is testing the nerve ends, then Orient and Charlton might just relax them a little.

The Championship beckons. When they do eventually cross the finish line - like Tony McCoy did in yellow and green colours in the Grand National on Saturday - they can kiss goodbye to MK Dons and their nasty habits. The worry is that Mr Friend could appear again.

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