PAUL SMITH admits Redditch United will continue to pay a price for last weekend’s red card mayhem, but insisted they have the squad to cope.
The Reds were reduced to eight men but still managed to rescue a point against fellow strugglers St Neots Town thanks to Robbie Bunn’s injury-time leveller.
Boss Smith felt the game descended into farce after referee Gareth Davis sent off Richard Batchelor, Michael McGrath and James Bowen, as well as booking five Reds players and six from St Neots.
Straight reds for midfielder Batchelor and full-back Bowen will mean three-game bans while McGrath, sent off for two bookings, will miss one match, although the club is checking video evidence to consider any appeal.
“I’ve never been involved in a game like it,” said Smith. “Very rarely I speak about officials. It’s the toughest job in the world being a referee.
“But we had a young lad and unfortunately the game has got the better of him.
“To be honest, I don’t think there was a bad tackle in the game but the ref has shown three red cards and ten or 11 yellow cards. It’s a real tough job and I feel for him. I hope the young lad will learn from his experience and he will get better.”
With a trip to tenth-placed Royston Town on Saturday followed by further tests against Tamworth at home and Stourbridge away, the depleted Reds face a tough run of fixtures in their bid to escape the relegation dogfight but Smith is confident they are equipped to cope.
Former Highgate and Leamington midfielder Josh Hawker is the latest recruit from Rushall Olympic, although George Washbourne has departed to join Coleshill Town.
“We wanted the three points against St Neots to give us a bit more breathing space but in the circumstances we gained a good point,” said Smith, whose side are three places and six points above the Southern Premier Central drop zone.
“We’re three games unbeaten now on the back of a run of five without a win and we’ve got to take the positives and move on.
“We showed plenty of character after going down to ten men, then nine, then eight, but I expect that from this group. I thought even with the red cards, I thought we were the better side in the second half and we kept pushing and deserved the equaliser at the end.
“We perhaps didn’t show the quality we had showed in our previous home game against Needham Market, but credit to St Neots, they are young lads and harried and hustled and stifled us.”
St Neots had stunned the hosts at the Trico Stadium by taking the lead after just four minutes from their first attack, with Gary Wharton finishing unerringly with a sweetly-timed 20-yard strike.
Batchelor provided the impetus as the Reds pushed forward, heading over a Bunn cross, but Redditch had a golden chance to level on 41 minutes.
Bunn’s cross was handled by Jordan Norville-Williams for referee Davis to award a penalty but Danico Johnson’s spot-kick was saved by a diving James Philip.
It got worse for the hosts on the stroke of half-time when Batchelor clattered into Scott Pollock in a 50-50 challenge and was red-carded.
Bunn had an effort blocked and Shaquille Leachman-Whittingham fired at the keeper but the Reds were reduced to nine men on 72 minutes after McGrath was given a second booking for a handball, although he claimed he has been pushed.
When Leachman-Whittingham smashed a rising effort over and then Bowen was sent off on 88 minutes, after the assistant referee spotted an apparent altercation, it seemed Redditch were heading to defeat, but two minutes into stoppage time they grabbed an equaliser.
Keeper Adam Whitehouse launched an attack and Bunn collected the ball as it bounced into the St Neots area and round keeper Phillip to roll home a cool finish.