Martin O’Neill paid tribute to “exceptionally courageous” referee Steve Bennett for the controversial penalty U-turn which earned Aston Villa a vital victory at Hull City.
Villa were set for a fourth successive Premier League away win against the run of play when Ashley Young’s 88th-minute cross was deflected in off Kamil Zayatte. However, O’Neill’s team had to contend with late drama when Bennett initially pointed to the spot for an alleged handball by Young in stoppage time.
After consulting with his linesman, the Kent official overturned his decision, correctly awarding a goal-kick instead after it transpired Michael Turner’s header had hit the bar and not Young’s outstretched hand.
“The referee has been exceptionally courageous to change his mind,” O’Neill said. “He’s given the penalty and I think Gareth asked him would he just consult the linesman. And the linesman has overuled him and that’s a very brave decision from the referee because he was then relying on the linesman being right.
“As it turns out it was the right decision. I was obviously delighted and then my delight turns to despair and then back to delight again.”
O’Neill would have been satisfied with a point before Zayatte’s own goal and accepted that Villa dropped below their usual standards. “My overall impression of the game is we didn’t play well,” O’Neill added. “We left a wee bit behind at Villa Park against Arsenal and I think that’s maybe understandable. However, after the way Hull set out, it was really up to us to break them down. We had lots of possession at the back but were unable to do anything with it. Eventually we started to hit it long and it was going nowhere for us.
“I thought in the second half the game opened up a little bit and Hull, obviously sensing that they could win, strolled forward themselves. I thought there was a wee bit more room to play in but we didn’t play well enough.”
O’Neill hailed Young for the “wizardry” that made the breakthrough although he quipped that the winger would have been left in Hull had the penalty stood.
“Suddenly, when maybe the game looked as if it was heading for stalemate, Ashley Young produces a piece of magic, absolutely brilliant. He puts in a great ball, we get the goal and then we had the drama at the end.
“I’ve no idea why Ashley put his hand in the air. He’s a very intelligent player, especailly when he’s coming up the corridor telling me he knew it was going over the bar. If it had been a penalty he wouldn’t be going back home on the bus with us!”