Livingston boss David Martindale blasted referee Kevin Clancy after the Lins slumped to a 1-0 loss away to St Johnstone that saw them fall out of the top six.
It was a game of two penalty decisions at McDiarmid Park with the hosts being awarded one in the third minute that was converted by Callum Hendry for the only goal of the game – and one not given for Livi in the closing stages for a clear handball from St Johnstone defend Dan Cleary.
Martindale disputed the decision to award Saints an early spot-kick after Jack Fitzwater had been adjudged to have used his elbow on Callum Hendry, noting both that Murray Davidson had been offside in the build-up and the actual decision to punish Fitzwater was harsh.
However, he was incensed that Clancy had failed to award the Lions a potential life-line in the contest in the dying minutes when Cleary stumbled and used his arm to deflect Andrew Shinnie’s delivery into the box.
Martindale said: “The first penalty, Murray Davidson is offside from the free-kick that comes into the box. He gets the first contact. I think it’s harsh on Fitzy, I think he’s shielding the ball and Hendry goes in and makes the most of it – but it’s offside before that. The linesman is looking straight across the line.
“Everybody in the stadium, including the seagulls knew it was a penalty for us. How we’ve not been given for that, I will never know. I’ve spoken to the St Johnstone players and management team and they all said ‘how did you not get a penalty?’
He added: “The significance of that decision could be massive for this football club. I don’t want to talk to Kevin Clancy, it’s a stonewall penalty. We had one against us against Celtic at our place where Fitzwater is pushing himself back up with his arm and they hit the ball against it and it’s a penalty.
“He gets the first offside decision wrong, then he gets the penalty wrong, then he gets our penalty wrong. It’s really difficult to take. What do I say to my players? They feel hard done by, I feel hard done by and I think we’ve every right to.”
Martindale handed a first start to USA international striker Sebastian Soto with the Lions’ top scorer Bruce Anderson out injured but they got off to the worst possible start when Clancy ruled that Fitzwater had used his elbow on Hendry with the striker slamming the spot-kick straight down the middle.
Livi recovered well and threatened an equalizer when neat link-up play between Joel Nouble and Alan Forrest saw the latter curl an effort on goal that was well dealt with by Zander Clark. The keeper was called upon again shortly after when Soto jinked his way beyond Cleary and fired a rasping angled drive on goal that Clark did well to get a strong hand to and prevent the danger.
The Saints had their chances, too, and Ali Crawford must have thought his fizzling drive from 20 yards was net bound, only for Max Stryjek to divert the effort wide after needing every inch of his outstretched frame to tip the ball behind.
Livi struggled to get a foothold in the second half and they were almost made to pay when Nadir Ciftci saw his glancing header just before the hour mark go narrowly wide of the far post while the visitors were fortunate to keep their full compliment of players on the park when James Penrice lunged in on Cleary inside the Saints box.
With Livi flinging everything forward in a bid to get back into the match, Cleary was in the thick of the action once again when the Irishman stumbled 12 yards from his own goal with his arm falling onto the ball that Shinnie had sent into the box with Clancy well placed to give the seemingly obvious decision.
Odin Bailey saw his effort repelled by Clark following that incident and while that decision went against them, the Lions should still have been traveling back down to West Lothian with a share of the spoils when Sean Kelly’s wonderful delivery into the box found the unmarked Ayo Obileye with the defender contriving to miss the target.
Martindale added: “I we were the better team but fair play to St Johnstone because I felt they controlled their 18 yard box extremely well. They gave us a lot of possession but they defended well.
“We’ve still got a chance of getting into the top six but who really knows who is going to be in it? We’ve given ourselves a fighting chance but we can only control what we can control.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.