Ref Watch: Sunderland (H)

Can you believe what you read on here anymore? I had Chris Sarginson down as the referee for Tuesday night, as did the official EFL site, but it seems there was a last-minute change.

Instead, we got Andy Haines, and I might have preferred we didn’t, given what was an inconsistent evening at best. Can we expect the same this weekend? Well, much depends on whether we get the actual referee the EFL have allocated to us!

Referee: CRAIG HICKS
Assistants: Danny Gratton and Abbas Khan
Fourth Official: Conor Brown

We first encountered Craig Hicks in 2013/14 when he officiated our 2-1 win at Salisbury. In 2016/17, he took charge of our 0-0 draw with Aldershot and the 2-1 win at Torquay early in the season, where he awarded us a second-minute penalty. He was promoted to the Football League in the summer of 2017 and was in charge as we lost 1-0 to Exeter City He has been good to us since then in terms of results, overseeing our 4-1 win at Crewe in 2017/18 and the 3-0 win at Crawley during our title-winning season.

Hicks, lurking as we lose to Exeter City – Credit Graham Burrell

There was some controversy in 2019/20 as he failed to award us a ‘stonewall’ penalty in the defeat at Doncaster, with then-manager Danny Cowley feeling we should have had three. Likewise, when we lost 1-0 to Shrewsbury earlier in the season, I claimed he should have given us a couple of penalties which he did not. He does like to let the game flow, and in some instances that sees petty fouls get missed or players get let off. Is that a good thing? I suppose it depends if you’re fouled, or fouling, pushing or being pushed.

Our paths crossed again in May, and hopefully, this is an omen: he was in charge of our Play-Off Semi-Final win against Sunderland, a memorable evening for all concerned. I felt he had a decent game then, and he did the same earlier this season, as we won 2-1 away at Burton. In that game, I commented: “Craig Hicks, a referee I had no cause to talk about at all, blew the whistle and delivered us a much-needed three points.” He didn’t even get a mention the lat time out; he was in charge as we lost 1-0 to Accrington, a side I still cannot believe we are behind in the league.

Credit Graham Burrell

In all competitions this season, Hicks has handed out 86 yellows and six reds in 30 matches. That’s not terrible; it’s a low booking count. When you drill down to League One, he has just two reds in his 15 games, leaving him 27th out of 60 in the reds per game table. He’s even lower in the yellows per game, 46th out of 60, but all those below him bar one have officiated fewer than 10 matches, making him one of the most lenient. Rather oddly, he awards 23.6 fouls per game, putting him inside the top 20. That suggests a stop/start game where his whistle is often heard, but his cards seldom seen.

Keep an eye on the boxes as well; he awards a penalty every four games, give or take (0.27 per game), but hasn’t awarded one in his last four matches. If I were MA, I’d have a few on penalty practise this Friday.