Headbutts and failed theatrical delays: Sunderland rallies for zany win over Oxford

Aiden McGeady scored as ref allowed free kick with United player on ground.

Aiden McGeady scored as ref allowed free kick with United player on ground.
Image: Getty Images

Sunderland took another step in its quest to get out of England’s League One and back to the Championship on Friday, but the Black Cats’ 3-1 win over Oxford United wasn’t without controversy.


Hilarious… HA-lar-ious… controversy.

With Oxford down to 10 men in a game where the U’s committed 20 of the 33 fouls and had three players booked in addition to Mark Sykes being sent off, Sunderland was ramping up pressure in a tie game when Cameron Brannagan was whistled for a foul on Chris Maguire. Trying to sell it as if he was the one who had been fouled, Brannagan remained on the ground, and looked directly at referee Trevor Kettle as the indication was made for a Sunderland free kick.

Instead of getting up to defend the free kick, Brannagan rolled over onto his back, knowing full well that it was in Oxford’s interest, chasing a spot in the promotion playoffs, to try to waste time and salvage a point out of the match. Kettle, though, was having none of it, and allowed Sunderland to take a quick free kick that resulted in Aiden McGeady’s tiebreaking goal.

Seeing the video online after the game, Brannagan tweeted, “Please tell me how this is not stopped shambles !!!!” — a tweet that he then deleted because it was plainly obvious what he was doing.

It’s hardly the first time that an official has allowed play to proceed despite a player’s attempts to stall the action. On April 18, 1988, umpire Tim McClelland wanted to keep things moving during a game that the Yankees led by 14 runs in Minnesota, so as Dan Gladden lollygagged around outside the batter’s box, McClelland motioned for Yankees pitcher Charles Hudson to throw, which Hudson did for a called third strike.

The Brannagan incident wasn’t the only intrigue out of Sunderland-Oxford United, as losing manager Karl Robinson, who was red-carded and sent to the stands after McGeady’s goal, accused a member of Sunderland’s coaching staff of headbutting goalie Jack Stevens at halftime. Sunderland manager Lee Johnson acknowledged, “It’s got a little bit Royal Rumble at halftime,” so perhaps next Sunderland will be taking on Roman Reigns at Wrestlemania.

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