Crewe boss David Artell felt his side handled a testing situation perfectly after a 70 minute half-time delay in their 2-0 win over Accrington Stanley.
Goals from Charlie Kirk in first-half injury time and a penalty from Chris Porter on 67 minutes gave the League Two promotion chasers a comfortable win over League One Stanley, who had Mark Hughes sent off for a tackle on last man Owen Dale 13 minutes from time.
But the real story of the game was about the officials. Referee Neil Hair limped off with a calf injury in the 22nd minute and was replaced in the middle by fourth official Alan Clayton.
Mr Clayton was injured at half-time, again his calf, and there was the lengthy delay while both sides discussed how to go forward with just two officials – allowed under FA rules.
The second period ended up kicking off at 5.10pm with assistant referee Danny Gratton taking over as referee and just one assistant Conor Brown.
“We were the better team and thoroughly deserved the win, irrespective of what happened with the officials,” said Artell.
“It was testing for the players with the long delay but they handled it well.
“The original ref injured his calf and then Alan said at half-time he was injured, he hadn’t been able to warm-up.
“There was a Crewe fan who is a Level 5 referee and Accrington assistant manager Jimmy Bell, his son is a referee, but they felt it wasn’t fair on either nor to get the assessor to do it.
“Mr Hair was on the phone to Mike Jones at the Referees Association and the FA as it’s their competition. At half-time and they said the game had to continue with one assistant. We had a toss up, I won and chose our defence for where the official would be.
“The second-half ref had a lot to deal with and I felt he did really well. It was trying for everyone and no one’s fault. I just think, if a referee gets injured, there should be a delay for his replacement to warm-up, that needs looking at.”
John Coleman had no complaints about the result but admitted it was a ‘bizarre’ situation for his team.
“It’s not ideal, you are waiting 70 minutes to play but let’s not get this hidden behind the referee, we weren’t good enough and Crewe were better.
“The referee who had come on hadn’t warmed up and he has torn his calf and we were left with two officials.
“We could have used a Crewe player’s friend or Jimmy Bell’s son, who were both qualified to run the line, but I felt it wasn’t fair on either and so we were told we had to play with just one assistant.
“Then according to FA rules, which is bizarre, whoever gets the liner is decided on the toss of a coin. I have never known that before, it’s a new one on me.
“But it’s the same for both sides. Decisions did seem to go for them but it happens when you are on top. I don’t want to make excuses, we went out the FA Cup because Crewe were better than us.”