Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was left to rue both some unfortunate refereeing decisions and the totting up procedure after losing one of his key players for the next three games – but the Northampton manager admits Matt Crooks must learn to be more careful when he picks up a booking in the future.
For the third time this season, Crooks received two yellows and then a red against Bristol Rovers on Saturday when the Cobblers came from a goal down to draw 1-1 at the Memorial Stadium.
The first of Crooks’ three red cards came at Southend United in Hasselbaink’s third game in charge, sent off for standing too close at a free-kick in stoppage-time, and he also saw red for needlessly getting involved in a late scuffle against Walsall in December.
But he was unfortunate in the extreme to suffer the same fate against Bristol Rovers after picking up two soft bookings, particularly the latter, and that left his manager hugely frustrated at full-time.
Crooks’ physical and sometimes belligerent playing style has made him no stranger to the referee this season but while Hasselbaink has warned him to be more cautious in future games, the Town manager’s anger was mostly directed towards referee Eddie Ilderton.
“It’s not a price that I want to pay,” said Hasselbaink on Crooks’ discipline record. “You can play on the edge but you still have to know what you’re doing.
When you have a yellow card, you have to play a different way. You cannot play on the edge, you have to be careful because at that moment we had the upper-hand in the game and we wanted to push on.
“I think, with the first yellow card, he was very unfortunate because it wasn’t a yellow card, it was very cheap and that put the referee in trouble.
“In that aspect, the referee was poor. I don’t like saying it and I don’t ask for yellow cards to be given but it was a fact and in my eyes he was not consistent.
“If you’re going to give him yellow card for the first foul then all of those type of fouls are yellow cards and a lot of players will be booked and we don’t want to see that. We want to see the game flow and see an English game.
“But when you have a yellow card, you have to play a different way. You cannot play on the edge, you have to be careful because at that moment we had the upper-hand in the game and we wanted to push on.
“We looked like we could have nicked the three points but when you get another yellow card like the first one it’s very disappointing.
“I spoke to the referee (at half-time) because I was upset about it. He stopped the game for silly yellow cards and I don’t think we had the best referee on Saturday.
“It’s an intimidating place to come and it’s intimidating for the referee. I’m not saying it’s easy because it’s very difficult because that’s why, and you know me now, I rarely talk about the referee, good or bad, but now I’m going to miss a player for three matches and I don’t think he deserves that. He shouldn’t have been sent off.”
With Crooks ruled out for Town’s matches against Rotherham, Shrewsbury and Fleetwood, Hasselbaink could drop John-Joe O’Toole back into a deeper midfield role and play two out-and-out strikers up front, with Chris Long, Kevin Luckassen and Boris Mathis to choose from as Kevin van Veen continues to recover from a knee injury.
But O’Toole was far from his best during the opening 45 minutes at Bristol Rovers, so much so that Hasselbaink took the unusual step of replacing the in-form midfielder with Hildeberto Pereira at half-time.
“I didn’t think he played as well as he has done in the past and his effect on the game was not there,” said the Town manager.
“We had to play a little bit differently with somebody else who had different attributes. We changed the dynamics and it was a little bit better.”