THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN
WHAT a week that was for Caley Thistle forward James Keatings. His red card dished out by referee Greg Aitken in ICT’s 2-1 Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Cup semi-final win over Rangers Colts last Sunday left the nation and beyond baffled and confused. The Inverness club was both of those as well as furious.
The reason the player was given his marching orders in that hard-fought Caledonian Stadium contest was that the whistle felt he’d dived on the edge of the box when challenged by Gers youngster Ciaran Dickson. Not one visiting player raced to Keatings to accuse him of ‘simulation’ as it’s often labelled these days.
Aitken, who had riled Caley Thistle manager John Robertson with his performance at Ayr this season, didn’t see the clear hip-to-hip contact that everyone else seemed to see and, to a man, was confirmed with one take on camera.
Rain-soaked Robertson didn’t hold back in his immediate post-match comments after a stormy afternoon in more ways than one. His delight at his players’ comeback victory was suppressed understandably by the call to send Keatings off, as well as ICT claim that an offside goal should have gone in their favour.
Keatings, whose goal brought the tie level, is now in danger of missing the final, which it has since been confirmed will be played on Saturday, March 28 against League One high-flyers Raith Rovers.
The Caley Jags wasted no time in spending £1,000 to lodge their appeal with the Scottish FA and, it was largely felt, a routine check by the three-man panel of the video evidence would clear Keatings of any wrongdoing and Aitken would get his chance to hold his hand up for the genuine mistake.
However, when the news broke on Wednesday that the independent panel had dismissed ICT’s appeal in support of their striker, the reaction was a strong as Storm Dennis, which like this story, refuses to settle down.
The Inverness club were ‘incredulous and furious’ that the SFA panel had rejected the appeal in a footballing moment that looked as clear as glass was wrong. Football clubs nationwide rallied around to throw their weight behind Keatings and slam the SFA for cocking up so spectacularly.
Seething Caley Thistle, who were preparing for Friday’s game at Championship leaders Dundee United (which they lost 2-1), demanded a written explanation and that was reportedly due this coming Tuesday.
However, on Saturday just before the 3pm games had kicked off, the SFA announced that a fresh look would be given to the incident after the original panel “failed to implement its duties”. The original hearing has been rendered ‘invalid’ as one of the trio on that ridiculed panel did not consider all the available evidence.
Does that mean he didn’t watch the footage? If not, why not?
The full official Caley Thistle response to their rejected appeal was widely applauded, with its reference that even ‘dogs in the street’ know the decision was wrong adding a blend of confusion and colour to a serious matter for Keatings.
The common call this past week from football folk near and far in the wake of this saga is that the appeals process needs rewritten. As Motherwell chief executive Alan Burrows said – “(The Judicial Panel Protocol), its terms and how it’s implemented need to be completely torn up and rewritten, starting with a blank sheet”.
Hibernian chief Leann Dempster graphically chipped into the wide debate, adding on the subject of the appeals system: “We’ve spoken so much about this to the powers-that-be and I personally feel we have not made much progress. It needs to change and, by the way, if I hear the words ‘it (the SFA) is a members’ organisation one more time I might cough up my liver laughing”.
So, Keatings gets a second chance and there would be, one would think, no chance of the new-look panel getting it wrong this time around.
Then the goal-grabber will get the green light to take on Raith Rovers.. if Robbo picks him. Could you imagine?
Back on the pitch, Caley Thistle played well and were unlucky to leave Tannadice on the back of a 2-1 Championship defeat against a Dundee United side now a whopping 21 clear of them and now just need to ease over the finish line.
As I’ve said all season, ICT must ensure they finish second to avoid two extra play-off ties later this season.
However, Ayr and shock promotion contenders Arbroath (whose meeting was abandoned at blustery Gayfield on Saturday) are snapping at their heels, while a defeat for ICT in their rearranged fixture at Dunfermline on Tuesday would haul the Pars to within two points of them.
Ultimately, five sides, from second-placed Ayr to Dunfermline in sixth, are fighting to finish second, third and fourth. Caley Thistle have been second most of the season, so they have to ensure they get back there and stay there.
After Tuesday’s match at Dunfermline, the Highlanders will turn their attention to Friday night and that mouth-watering William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final at Premiership Hibs.
- Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking sports show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. Follow Alive and Kicking on Facebook for the latest programme news and, while on air, email Paul on firstname.lastname@example.org with your sports views or music requests.
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