That well-worn, sardonic phrase, ‘even Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask’, came to mind after the final whistle in Hucknall Town’a latest Central Midlands League, South Division match.
For if ever there was an open-and-shut case for daylight robbery, then this was it.
Even the chairman of opponents Southwell City admitted that he could not have had any complaints if Town had trooped off four or five goals to the good.
Instead, somehow, they suffered a 2-0 defeat that in no way reflected the effort and level of performance from the Yellows players.
Frustrated manager Andy Graves said: “It often happens that the best side do not always get their reward -- and no match was more indicative of that than this one.
“We dominated for 85% of the game, yet we lost -- thanks to Southwell’s defending and some totally baffling and incompetent decisions by the officials.”
Referee Scott Mason was the target of Town anger for both Southwell goals, which were scored by their prolific dangerman Stef Whiteley.
In the 22nd minute, they were perplexed by Mason’s decision to allow play to go on when Leon Aikman seemed to be felled inside his own half. As the ball broke to the left, it came off right-back Montel Gatland for a corner, from which Whitely bundled the ball over the line after goalkeeper James Beddingham had misjudged the cross in the wind and parried instead of catching.
Southwell had to wait until the dying seconds of the game for their second goal -- but again it was tinged with controversy, stemming as it did from a foul on striker Eugene Francis on the edge of the box.
The culprit received only a yellow card, rather than a red, and the defensive wall failed to retreat the full ten yards as Town sought to take the free-kick quickly. John Whetton’s shot not only came off the wall but also led to a Southwell breakaway, from which Whiteley netted.
It was the second time this season, Southwell have returned home from Watnall Road with a win, having knocked Town out of the Notts FA Senior County Cup in November -- seven days after the two sides had drawn in their first league game.
And the only consolation for Graves’s men is that, on each occasion, they looked a better outfit than a side now as high as fifth in the table.
Here, they bossed proceedings despite being without exciting new striker Courtney Bonnick, not to mention long-term absentees Mark Smith and Ash Whitt.
And midway through the second period, they also lost skipper and man-of-the-match Cameron Davidson, who was caught late by a challenge that went unpunished. After being rushed to hospital, Davidson was diagnosed with a broken foot, which will keep him out of action for a minimum of six weeks.
At least Town welcomed back centre-back Alex Arnold and also Johnny Hamilton, who replaced Bonnick up front. And from the off, they were on the offensive.
Two early penalty-appeals were turned down when both Whetton and the pacy Hamilton looked to have been chopped down as they went past their markers. And Hamilton, who caused problems all afternoon, was twice denied by a linesman’s offside flag as he raced clear.
Southwell’s goal came completely against the run of play. But Town continued to pour forward and after Francis had made room for a shot that was blocked, he was the victim in a third rejected penalty shout when pulled down as he turned his man.
Such was Town’s domination that the second half was played almost entirely in the visiting half. But Southwell funnelled men behind the ball and thanks to desperate blocks, solid defending and some rushed goal-attempts by the home side, the score remained 1-0.
Aikman blasted over from six yards, a superb cross by Whetton somehow eluded all and then a bizarre incident saw the Southwell ‘keeper appear to carry the ball over his own line as Davidson slid in, only for referee Mason to wave away Town pleas.
As the clock ticked on, The Yellows threw everything at Southwell’s dogged backline. But they could not turn the tide of fate.