Rafa Benitez gives surprising verdict on blundering referee Keith Stroud

Stunned: Newcastle star Matt Ritchie complains to referee Keith Stroud after seeing his penalty chalked off  and a free-kick given, wrongly, to Burton Albion
Stunned: Newcastle star Matt Ritchie complains to referee Keith Stroud after seeing his penalty chalked off  and a free-kick given, wrongly, to Burton Albion

Rafa Benitez refused to publicly criticise referee Keith Stroud after his astonishing blunder overshadowed a huge win for Newcastle United.

A second-half goal from Matt Ritchie gave Benitez’s side a 1-0 victory over Burton Albion at St James’s Park last night.

The result took the club back to the top of the Championship ahead of Saturday’s game away to Sheffield Wednesday.

And it also saw United maintain their 10-point lead over third-placed Huddersfield Town.

Ritchie, however, also had a first-half penalty chalked off after Dwight Gayle encroached into the box.

Stroud should have ordered the kick to be retaken, but he instead awarded Burton a free-kick.

Benitez and his coaching staff remonstrated with Stroud, assistant Matthew McGrath and fourth official Tony Harrington for several minutes.

After the game, Stroud issued an apology through Professional Game Match Officials Limited.

United manager Benitez stressed the need to “move forward” after the game.

Benitez said: “The referee and me have been talking.

“We need to move forward. We can’t change what happened.

“We got three points. We have to be ready to be stronger for the next one. After the incident, we were losing our focus. We won.”

Asked to explain what had happened, Benitez added: “We had a couple of explanations. Nobody was convincing. I prefer to talk about the best goal.”

The PGMOL statement read: “In this evening’s EFL Championship game between Newcastle United and Burton Albion, referee Keith Stroud awarded Newcastle a penalty in the 29th minute.

“As Matt Ritchie took the kick, Dwight Gayle encroached in the penalty area.

“An indirect free-kick was awarded to Burton, but the Laws of the Game state that that the penalty kick should have been retaken.

“Unfortunately, the referee has misapplied the Law.

“Keith and his team are understandably upset at the lapse in concentration and apologise for the mistake.”

The penalty was conceded by Tom Flanagan, who challenged Gayle in the box in the 28th minute.

While Burton manager Nigel Clough felt Stroud had got that initial decision wrong, he was “pleased” the game hadn’t been decided by the official’s error in interpreting the rules.

“I didn’t think it was a penalty in the first place,” said Clough.

“I don’t know about that. I am pleased it wasn’t the game-deciding issue.

“Somebody has put the ball in the top corner. I am pleased about that. You don’t want controversial decisions to decide matches.”