Controversial penalty sends Ilfracombe Town on way to Les Phillips Cup defeat
IT is a situation that seems to be occurring more and more in football.
A player blasts a powerful shot that hits a defender on the arm from point-blank range and the referee gives a penalty.
Intentional handball? Never in a million years but officials are increasingly pointing to the spot.
Kane Dryden was the unlucky Ilfracombe Town player to concede a penalty in the Les Phillips Cup at Larkhall Athletic on Saturday.
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It signalled the start of a disastrous 15-minute spell after half time that saw their cup dreams turn into a nightmare.
By the time they conceded a second controversial goal and saw two defenders limp off with injuries, the second-round tie was slipping away.
After working so hard to get themselves in front, Ilfracombe manager Ross Middleton said it was "outrageously frustrating".
"Everything was going as we had hoped and it was all blown out of the water," he said.
Tactically they were spot on in the first 45 minutes, with Middleton and Dryden biting in midfield and Ryan Turner and Shaun Lewis pressing high up the pitch.
At the back, Craig Allan and Gary Skinner coped well with the lively threat of Nat Auckland and Simon Gilbert.
Twice in the early stages Gilbert sent over crosses that no one was able to convert and Auckland rifled a free kick narrowly wide.
On several occasions Ilfracombe hassled and harried defenders into mistakes.
As Lee Francis bobbled the ball across goal, it just eluded a finishing touch from Turner.
Turner continued to give Gary Thorne a headache, and another slip in the Larkhall defence allowed him break in behind. The striker was bundled over by goalkeeper Chris Snoddy who escaped with a yellow card due to the presence of a covering defender.
Billy Tucker calmly tucked away the penalty for his ninth goal of the season.
As Larkhall went in search of an equaliser, Gilbert was denied by a well-timed challenge from Allan and could only shoot into the side-netting from a tight angle. When a rare mistake from Skinner allowed Gilbert in for a third chance, the forward dragged his shot wide.
Ilfracombe must have sensed it was going to be their day as they headed in for the interval with the lead intact.
With their ears still ringing from a half-time dressing down, Larkhall emerged with renewed energy for the second half.
Within two minutes, Skinner pulled up with a hamstring injury and the visitors needed a defensive reshuffle.
Then came the helping hand the hosts required. A shot from Tom Welch hit Dryden and Gilbert scored the penalty.
"If it had been against us we would have appealed for it but there was nothing Kane could do when the ball was volleyed against him from a yard away," said Middleton.
Moments later, with Ilfracombe appealing desperately for offside, Auckland drifted clear of Dryden to clip the second goal over Steve Oliver.
"As far as we were concerned, he had to be offside," said Middleton. "The linesman was not even up with play."
Their woes increased further when Josh Heafield hobbled off with a knee problem, leaving Steve Holland to play as a makeshift right back.
A dreadful back-pass from Shaun Lewis almost presented Larkhall with a third goal but Oliver raced from his line to clear the danger.
After struggling to regain their early momentum, the visitors rallied in the closing stages and Snoddy showed sharp reactions to thwart Turner from close range.
When Allan poked over from a scramble in stoppage time, Ilfracombe's last chance of a trophy this season had gone.