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Gillingham 1 Mansfield Town 1: Neil Harris’ reaction to a controversial decision by referee Jacob Miles that led to Davis Keillor-Dunn’s equaliser at Priestfield

Gillingham manager Neil Harris says the controversial refereeing decision that led to Mansfield’s goal on Saturday has left them feeling hard done by.

The Gills were dominating the opening half of the League 2 game at Priestfield and led through Macauley Bonne’s early goal before a quickly taken free-kick was converted by Davis Keillor-Dunn.

Gillingham manager Neil Harris explains his side of the argument over Saturday’s big controversy against Mansfield
Gillingham manager Neil Harris explains his side of the argument over Saturday’s big controversy against Mansfield

Referee Jacob Miles had penalised Ethan Coleman for a foul, which Harris had no issue with, but as the official reached in his pocket for a yellow card, seemingly meaning a pause in play, Mansfield took the free-kick quickly and scored.

Harris kept his cool on the touchline and spoke to the fourth official Aaron Farmer at the interval before then quizzing referee Miles before making his own feelings known to the press afterwards.

“It is a tough one and I am not disputing the law,” said Harris, who had been thrilled with his own team’s performance up until then.

“Ethan brings the lad down, no debate, it’s a foul, it’s a yellow card, it’s a good foul (Mansfield had broken on the Gills). The Mansfield players are well within their rights to put their hands on the ball and play, there is no issue with that.

“The letter of the law is that he can put his hand on the ball and then play it, I said to the referee ‘that’s the letter of the law, however, your actions as a referee with the whistle and with the card, and with the gesture to book the player makes it clear to everyone in the ground that you’re going to book a player.

“‘You allow them to take a quick free-kick, six or seven yards further forward from where it was given away, but I am not going to dispute that, but his body language and his demeanour has made our team stop and think it’s a yellow card.

“I said that is taking the decision out of the game, he then has to bring it back, I spoke to him, he understands that, he needs to see it again and discuss it with his coaches.

“The learning curve for us is that my young centre-halves have to expect the worst moment, but I can understand my team stopping and why they did it, I have not seen that for a long, long time in football, all my years, 25, maybe twice and I might not see it again, so it is very contentious, very subjective, but we are right to feel hard done by in the moment.”

Harris knew he had to keep his cool himself, as he could see the decision had got to his players.

He said: “I decided in that moment that I couldn’t change it, I didn’t want to get too emotional. I sensed the players straight away were emotional, straight away Scott (Malone) got booked, a couple of younger players made back-to-back errors, they lost their calmness.

“I was trying to get the message to the senior players, just to keep calm, let me deal with it at half-time with the fourth official, which I did, and got an explanation to the rule, which fair play he did, which was excellent, he gave me literally word for word the rule. He explained it and I had some understanding.

“I was quite calm, I knew I had to deliver my message at half-time to get us back on track and it is frustrating, the game massively swung on that moment.

Referee Jacob Miles was centre of attention on Saturday Picture: @Julian_KPI
Referee Jacob Miles was centre of attention on Saturday Picture: @Julian_KPI

“All I can try and do is articulate it in the best way I can, and understand the letter of the law, but football isn’t just about the letter of the law, it’s the man in the middle controlling the narrative and the storyline and today the storyline will be about him and had he pulled it back the moment he (the Mansfield player) passed the ball it would not be mentioned one bit.”

Opposition boss Nigel Clough didn't see anything wrong with the goal.

“We got the ball and took a quick free-kick,” he said. “I thought that was still in the rules. You don’t stop, you play to the whistle.

“I didn’t think there was anything against the rules in it. I just thought it was quick thinking.”

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