Miles Starforth’s analysis: It’s a reffing nightmare for Newcastle at the City Ground

Karl Darlow gets congratulated on his two penalty saves for Newcastle at Forest. Picture by Frank Reid
Karl Darlow gets congratulated on his two penalty saves for Newcastle at Forest. Picture by Frank Reid

Just when you think you’ve seen it all in the Championship, this happens.

And just when you think you’ve seen the division’s worst referee, another one comes along.

Newcastle United were beaten 2-1 by Nottingham Forest.

Two dismissals, two penalties and three goals, one from Matt Ritchie.

But the scoreline and those statistics don’t even begin to tell the story of what happened at the City Ground last night.

But the club’s 1,866 travelling fans applauded the nine players left on the field off as if they had won the game.

They had given everything. For the second time in a week, they had run themselves into the ground.

And they came within a few minutes of taking what would have been a remarkable point back to the North East.

United were spirited. They were superb, especially Karl Darlow, who saved both spot-kicks.

Jonjo Shelvey, however, was stupid.

The midfielder needlessly kicked out at Henri Lansbury in the first half, but referee Stephen Martin, on the evidence of what was to follow, will be lucky to referee in this division again.

Shelvey – who had been controlling the game – will now be banned up to his Football Association misconduct hearing later this month.

Newcastle fans might not see him again until January, and that absence could prove very, very costy.

Rafa Benitez had made four changes to the team beaten on penalties by Hull City in the EFL Cup on Tuesday night.

Ayoze Perez, Paul Dummett, DeAndre Yedlin and Karl Darlow came into United’s starting XI at the City Ground, while Aleksandar Mitrovic – who didn’t travel to Humberside – was named on the bench along with Mohamed Diame, who had run himself into the ground agianst his former club at the KCOM Stadium.

The game also saw Darlow and Jamaal Lascelles face their old team for the first time since leaving Forest.

Newcastle, despite their exertions against Hull, were energetic in the opening minutes.

Shelvey – who had faded out of the cup game – demanded the ball at every opportunity, but the first chance fell to Matty Cash, who forced a fine save from Darlow after losing his marker to the right of United’s goal.

Ritchie curled an effort wide at the other end of the pitch a minute later.

Ritchie had spoken candidly about what he felt had been a dip in his form on the eve of the game, and had pledged to “pull a goal out of his magic hat”. That was to come later.

United looked fluent on the ball in the opening half-hour, while Forest – who put five goals past Barnsley last weekend – threatened whenever they got into the final third of the pitch.

Newcastle’s best tactic was to get the ball to Shelvey, who was dictating play in midifeld on a sodden surface.

Then it happened.

Shelvey and Lansbury landed together and the United midfielder reacted with a kick. Referee Stephen Martin missed the incident, but his assistant flagged as Lansbury rolled on the turf.

Martin belatedly pulled out a red card and pointed to the spot.

Darlow, however, was able to keep out former Sunderland striker Bendtner’s penalty.

At the other end of the pitch, Ciaran Clark had a goal disallowed. The defender – who headed home a Ritchie free-kick – was penalised for pulling an opponent.

Then it happened. Again.

Lansbury went down under a challenge from Paul Dummett and Martin pointed to the spot and sent off Dummett.

Yet replays showed Lansbury was going down long before Dummett touched him.

Darlow, remarkably, stopped Lansbury’s penalty to the delighted of the travelling fans massed behind him.

They weren’t so delighted at Martin, arguably the worst referee yet to officiate United in English football’s second tier.

Benitez, left with just nine players, replaced Perez with Vurnon Anita for the second half, but Newcastle couldn’t hold out for long, Bendtner forcing the ball over the line after a goalmouth scramble early in the second half.

Darlow had stopped the first effort, but he couldn’t stop Bendtner equalising, though the strike looked to be offside.

Newcastle, beaten at the stadium the last time they were in the Championship, gamely tried to hold on to a point. They ran. And ran. And ran.

And still the home side came back at them on a miserable night.

United did show some ambition. They got forward at times, but Gayle was isolated up front and he often had to come deep for the ball.

Lansbury finally made it into Martin’s notebook in the second half for a cynical foul on DeAndre Yedlin.

Lansbury made his displeasure known to Martin, and the irony of that wasn’t lost on Newcastle’s travelling support given his role in the two dismissals.

Forest’s supporters started to become frustrated as the half wore on.

Isaac Hayden shot wide after the introduction of Diame, but Forest would eventually get their goal four minutes from the end of normal time.

United captain Lascelles inadvertently forced the ball over the the line to give his old club all three points.

It was hard on Newcastle, who couldn’t have given any more in the second half.