The referee and his assistants confirmed their place in circus folklore today with some decisions that took clowning beyond the call of duty.
With the intriguing cup tie poised at 2-2 mid way through the second half, Salford player manager Darren Sheridan reacted badly to a Skem forward's elbow while the pair jostled in the D outside of the penalty area. The referee blew his whistle for what seemed like a free kick to Salford and maybe a booking for Sheridan. But instead, after a word with his `assistant', a penalty to Skem was given and duly converted to put the lucky scousers 3-2 up.
Even worse, a few minutes previous to that incident, Salford's Chris Thompson was hacked from behind in the Skem area when racing through on goal, and the clown in black merely waved away players' furious protests.
At 2-2 Salford were looking comfortable but once down to ten men, Skem took control and ended up 4-2 winners.
Earlier it had all looked promising for Salford on a ground where they had never beaten Skelmersdale, currently top of the Evo-Stik First Division. After Skem had taken an early lead, the Ammies drew level when Nathan McDonald took full advantage of a slip by the home keeper to fire the equaliser into an empty net.
After 35 minutes Salford were in front, Steve Yarwood turning in a cross shot by Jack Lane, a lead held comfortably until half time. Ten minutes into the second half Skem pulled the score back to 2-2 with a swerving shot from outside the area. Salford still seemed the more likely to win what was turning into a good old fashioned end-to-end cup tie, until the referee and his `assistants' intervened.
To rub salt into Salford's wounds, a Skem player should have been sent off in the last minute after appearing to head butt Chris Thompson. But the ref, again on the advice of his `assistant', chose merely to book the assailant. Next career move for these three officials? Billy Smarts…
So Salford depart the FA Trophy. And are left with a new target - FC United of Manchester in the FA Cup next Saturday.
• Tickets for Salford City fans only for the FA Cup game against FC United will be on sale at the Moor Lane ground on Tuesday evening 7-9pm, with the remainder on sale at the ground this Friday from around 10am-4pm. £7/£3
* With Radcliffe Borough drawing their FA Trophy tie today, the scheduled league match for Tues night at Moor Lane has been postponed.
Full preview of the FA Cup match, including an interview with Salford City captain and former FC United player Jimmy Holden to follow…
Photos by Gareth Lyons and Andrew Goudie