This was a match that was totally overshadowed by, what looked like a horrific injury to Salford's star keeper, Ritchie Branagan. After half an hour Branagan bravely gathered a ball in the area as a Skem forward lunged in. The referee, already dubbed a clown by Salford fans, allowed play to continue as the keeper lay prone on the ground, until he realised that Branagan wasn't moving at all.
It appeared to be a head or neck injury, as staff and players' coats were placed on the keeper to keep him warm until a paramedic arrived, followed by an ambulance. After half an hour Branagan was finally taken to hospital. Last night the club issued a bulletin stating that he, thankfully, didn't sustain any serious injuries.
The incident loomed over a match that had already had its share of drama before the injury scare. With Skelmersdale leading 1-0, Rob Kinsella had a wicked shot that a defender clearly stopped with his hand. An obvious penalty but the ref played on, and the Skem keeper was able to block a follow up shot that was heading for the net.
The referee underlined his claim to clowndom, allowing play to continue when Salford's keeper lay spark out. And even when play resumed, with forward Nathan Taylor taking over as keeper, a second Skem goal was allowed when the scoring forward was virtually standing on the goal line offside. And it got worse…
Salford centre forward, Rob Kinsella, attempted to back head a throw but was beaten to the ball by the head of a Skem midfielder. The referee called Kinsella over and flashed a red card. What the hell for, no-one seemed to know. At half time the ref apparently said it was for an elbow but Kinsella's elbows were nowhere near anyone. Another shocking decision, which, together with the keeper crisis, finished the game as any sort of contest.
Beating league leaders Skelmsersdale was never going to be easy. Beating them with no recognised keeper, ten men and a clown for a referee was now going to be impossible.
The second half, with the Ammies already 2-0 down, was littered with the ref flashing yellow cards to angry Salford players, while Skem proceeded to miss chance after chance, impeded too by some top keeping from Nathan Taylor.
But even Taylor could do nothing about a free kick from former Salford favourite Adam Morning that screamed into the net from the edge of the area. 0-3. Salford were denied another penalty claim when Osebi Abadaki was sent sprawling in the area - but by now Salford players expected nothing from the joker in black.
At the final whistle Salford fans gathered at the players' tunnel to chide the official - `Three nil to the referee…three nil to the referee' - and tell his assessor that he was worse ref the club had got all season. Now, that is saying something, given the procession of Billy Smart's rejects that have officiated Ammies games this season…
Meanwhile, all post match thoughts were focussed on the welfare of Ritchie Branagan, who has won more Man of the Match awards than any other Salford player this season. Thankfully when word came from the hospital it was good news.
Salford City now play Trafford away on Easter Monday.
Photos by Gareth Lyons and Andrew Goudie
Main photo by Andrew Goudie