Salford were defeated 3-2 by Garforth Town in a controversial game which saw Salford defender Craig Flowers taken to hospital, and the game delayed by thirty minutes in the second half due to his injury.
Flowers was hurt in an accidental challenge on the edge of the Salford box when it looked as if he caught a stray knee to the back of his head from a Garforth player. The referee then ignored the clearly injured and unmoving figure of Flowers spread-eagled and face down on the floor, and the protestations of the Salford players to stop the game, as Garforth went on to score what turned out to be the winning goal.
Finally when the referee allowed the Salford physio onto the pitch for Flowers to get treatment an ambulance was called. This fast response unit took twenty minutes to arrive, and the paramedic strolled onto the pitch as if he wasn't responding to a 999 call. At no point whilst waiting for the paramedics did Flowers move.
In the meantime the referee found time to book Chris Curley, who protested about the referee's inaction, for dissent. The referee lamely tried to explain to an irate Salford player that he hadn't thought Flowers injury was serious hence he hadn't stopped the game - perhaps the referee hasn't been on planet Earth in the past week!
We all applaud the F.A. Respect campaign but shouldn't the referee have been more concerned with the injured player than worrying about the language used by an irate player worried about his friend lying motionless on the pitch?
To make matters even worse, the tannoy announcer decided to inform the crowd that if the game didn't restart by 5pm the referee would abandon it. Flowers was still on the floor and the ambulance hadn't arrived, what must he have felt if he heard that!
The game itself kicked off with Salford making two changes to the starting line up that played midweek against AFC Fylde. Captain Darren Hockenhull came back into central defence with Danny Heffernan moving upfront and Chris Monaghan brought in to replace Cayne Haney. Perhaps the foretaste of the afternoon for Salford was seen when the game was delayed for a few minutes with David Owens having a nose bleed and Jimmy Ogoo starting in his place.
Salford went in at half time trailing to a Garforth goal scored just before half time, in what had to that point been a close game with neither team creating any clear opportunities. Garforth started the stronger team in the opening few minutes, Salford's Josh Bardsley was forced into making, in the space of a couple of seconds, a block and tackle in the Salford penalty area. In the eighth minute skipper Darren Hockenhull kept Salford level by clearing the ball off the line after keeper Danny Jackson had fluffed a clearance under pressure.
In the 12th minute Matthew Tierney brought the first and only save of the half by either keeper, when after some neat interplay involving several Salford players, his shot from outside the box was grasped by Garforth keeper Ben Higginson.
Salford then enjoyed some pressure but in the 16th minute Chris Curley was clattered by Chris Walton, which began a passage of bad tempered football often perpetrated by Garforth. Salford continued to press and Danny Heffernan headed wide after he out jumped the Garforth defenders to meet a cross, and Heffernan with a neat flick on then sent Chris Monaghan through on goal, but he was caught by the Garforth defenders before he could get his shot away.
Jimmy Ogoo and then Craig Flowers were then victims of late Garforth "tackles". Flowers' assailant, Adam Priestley, found himself in the book and a few minutes later Garforth's rough house tactics resulted in them being given a final warning by the referee.
By the midpoint of the first half the game had fallen into a scrappy free-kickathon, with neither team being able to get their foot on the ball and play attractive football. In the 31st minute Jimmy Ogoo cleanly won the ball in midfield but the referee blew his whistle and gave a free kick against Ogoo. Ogoo then needlessly got himself booked with his remonstrations. Josh Bardsley went into the book when he threw the ball at a Garforth player, despite Salford winning the free kick!
Manager Rhodri Giggs will find it hard to criticise Bardsley as he himself was booked in the second half when he pushed a Garforth player in the back and should have been sent off. Despite Salford having won a free kick, the ensuing melee also saw Alex Mortimer booked for his aggressive attitude.
Just before the break Chris Curley gave away a needless free kick around thirty yards from the goal. The ball was launched into the box and it looked to be going out. Unfortunately for Salford, Chris Mortimer found himself unmarked at the back post and steered the ball past Danny Jackson. 1-0 to Garforth with their first shot on target!
The second half had only just started when Garforth found themselves fortunately 2-0 up. Garforth's Paul Walker shot after a mazy run on the edge of the Salford box was deflected by the luckless Craig Flowers in the path of Adam Priestly who had the simple task of heading into the net. Game over, or so the Garth fans thought!
City, despite the poor run in recent weeks, refused to buckle and chased the game, showing plenty of heart. A corner in the 53rd minute saw Craig Flowers power a header wide, a minute later Scott Metcalfe ran onto a through ball, beat the keeper but ran out of pitch.
A double attacking substitution which saw Chris Monaghan and Matthew Tierney replaced by James Green and Osebi Abadaki paid immediate dividends as Salford scored straight away, with Josh Bardsley heading in from a Scott Metcalfe corner to put Salford right back into the game (2-1).
Step forward referee Jeremy Illingworth, who a couple of minutes after Bardsley's goal bizarrely allowed the game to continue and Garforth's Oliver Hotchkiss to score to make it 3-1 when it was clear that Craig Flowers was seriously injured. After a half hour delay the game was restarted, with one callous local shouting to the referee to not forget Garforth had just scored.
Much to Salford's credit they spent the rest of the game trying to rescue a point for their team mate who was taken to the local Leeds hospital. They pushed forward and came close to gaining a deserved point. Josh Bardsley went close, and in the 78th minute Salford were denied a clear penalty when a Garforth defender handled. The referee waved play on - to be fair he was not the only one who shirked his duty as the linesman, ideally placed, had a short bout of paralysis and didn't wave his flag.
With two minutes to go, Scott Metcalfe put a cross into the box and Rhodri Giggs, who had replaced Flowers, scored on the rebound to set up a barnstorming finish (3-2). With Garforth hanging on desperately Osebi Abadaki had a final chance which he put wide. On the referees' final whistle, Garforth celebrated as if they had won the league.
Something must have then been said, as Alex Mortimer had to be restrained from Garforth's Chris Walton who had baited various Salford players throughout the game. Walton unsurprisingly didn't take Mortimer up on his offer of sorting out their differences in the car park and remained within the safety of the Garforth team.
Thankfully Craig Flowers, as he left for hospital, was conscious, talking and he had feeling in all his limbs, so we can only hope for his speedy recovery in a game which should have been abandoned.
Words and photos Gareth Lyons