Ref Watch: Plymouth Argyle (H)

Assistants: Bradley Hall and Michael George
Fourth Official: Marc Wilson

One thing is for sure – we’re not going to get Ryan Lowe moaning about penalties after this game, as thankfully, King Whinge has moved on to Preston. Phew.

What we do get is Craig Hicks, a man we first encountered 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 in 2020/21, I claimed he should have given us a couple of penalties which he did not. He did seem to like to let the game flow, and in some instances, that saw petty fouls get missed, or players get let off. Is that a good thing? I suppose it depends if you’re fouled, fouling, pushing or being pushed.

Our paths crossed in May 2021 when 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 last time two times we’ve had him; he was in charge as we lost 1-0 to Accrington, and we drew (somehow) with an excellent Sunderland side in March.

Credit Graham Burrell

This season, he appears to have been quite picky in League One. He’s had five games and is tenth out of 53 for fouls per game (24.40). Does he punish those with a yellow? Usually, you’d expect him to be in a similar position, but instead, he’s 34th in the division for yellows per game. Expect to hear the whistle but not see the card. He’s awarded a single penalty this season, to Devon side Exeter City as they lost 4-2 at Charlton.