The Man in the Middle: Blackpool POF

This will be the last Man in the Middle article for the season, but it is one I’m delighted to write.

Our previous play-off finals haven’t been too badly refereed, although Simon Yeo’s goal that got ruled out against Southend in 2005 could have changed plenty. Still, aside from the obvious, the standard of refereeing hasn’t been bad for us recently, and I felt Craig Hicks and Michael Salisbury both had decent games.

Who has the EFL entrusted to control the League One showcase event this weekend?

Referee: Tony Harrington

Assistant Referees: Ian Cooper & Wade Smith

Fourth Official: Jarred Gillett

Tony Harrington is a very experienced referee, who we first encounter in 2011/12, back in the Blue Square Premier. He officiated two matches that season featuring the Imps, both at Sincil Bank. The Cleveland official saw us lose 1-0 at home to Alfreton and against Hayes, a game in which he also sent off former Imp Jamie Hand.

Accrington 2019 – Courtesy Graham Burrell

Since then, we haven’t crossed paths that much. He was promoted to the EFL list and obviously, we were not. When we came into the league in 2017/18, he was doing mostly Championship games. The next time we saw him was the opening day of the 2019/20 season, as we beat Accrington 2-0. After that game, I wrote: “Tony Harrington, predominately a Championship referee, was showing Championship quality and a certain leniency which made the game flow.” Promising stuff.

We didn’t see him again that season, but he did get a League One play-off game and quite an infamous one. He was in charge of Wycombe’s 4-1 thrashing of Fleetwood, sending off both Lewie Coyle and Paddy Madden. It was a tough game for him, but one in which he received little criticism for his performance.

Liverpool in the cup – Credit Graham Burrell

This season, all of Tony Harrington’s league matches have been in the Championship, but he did oversee our game against Liverpool in the EFL Cup. He has shown just five red cards in his 35 matches, two of those coming in a mad game between Watford and Bournemouth which saw a mass brawl. He has issued 92 bookings in his 35 matches too, fewer than three per game. In his last 20 matches, he has awarded six penalties, two of which came in one game between Birmingham and Swansea.

What type of referee do we have? One who lets the game flow, but will not let it run away from him, as is seen by the controversial games he’s been in charge of. Those games were not seemingly ruined by him though, he had the big calls to make and he made them. It seems he might be a good choice for this huge occasion.