MANSFIELD Town manager Paul Cox tonight refused to jump onto the bandwagon of critics against controversial Uruguayan star Luis Suarez after the Liverpool star handled home the winner in their 2-1 FA Cup third round success at the One Call Stadium today.
Suarez clearly put the ball over the line off his hand, but the officials deemed it wasn’t deliberate and the goal stood.
Furious Stags fans chanted ‘cheat’ at a player so often booked for diving, but Cox said: “I don’t want to be too hard on him. He is a fabulous talent and we should embrace that, not have a go at him. If the shoe had been on the other foot we’d have taken it.
“I have just seen the highlights and, seeing some of the decisions made by the officials, I feel a bit gutted for the lads.
“The winning goal was a blatant handball. But there were two other occasions where balls heading towards goal were stopped by blatant handballs and nothing was given. That’s the FA Cup, though.
“You need that bit of luck. The referee or linesman should have spotted it.
“It was instinctive centre forward play by Luis Suarez and if Matt Green had done it at the other end we would have taken it. So I am not going to be two-faced and criticise Suarez for it.
“His body language as he kicked the ball into the net afterwards suggested he didn’t think it was going to stand.
“Referees are only human and have the hardest jobs in football. But you do expect them to pick up on the blatant stuff.”
Cox felt his side’s gutsy showing at least deserved a replay at Anfield.
“I am gutted as I thought the second half warranted something out if the game for us,” he said.
“In the first half we played the occasion and not the match. We stood off Liverpool and let them play. You look at their fabulous talent, we really rode our luck.
“But in the second half we played on the front foot.
“Today we have given a good account of ourselves and we ran a massive football club close.
“It was a great day and the lads will have taken something from it with memories and dreams.
“Brendan Rogers deserves a lot of respect for the side he sent for the fixture, and the changes he made during the game when they were hanging on before Suarez came on.
“All we needed to do after half-time was turn that pressure into goals which we couldn’t do.”
“I am just disappointed we couldn’t get a second goal to take us to Anfield which would have been a dream come true.”
Cox now has one eye on next weekend as Stags try to get themselves into the BSBP title race in the second half of the season.
He said: “I won’t celebrate losing a football match, but I can take a lot of positives out of this and try to take them into the league games.
“The bread and butter for us is league football and when the lads come back in on Tuesday, this game will have gone and we need to take this form through into the game with Kidderminster next Saturday.”
Today’s fine display ended an amazing weekend for Cox in which he was married and celebrated his 41st birthday.
“They don’t get much better than this and I’d like a few more,” he smiled. “It has all been a bit surreal.”