Jordan Pickford got an early Christmas present from the FA who upheld Preston North End’s appeal against his red card and withdrew a one-match ban.
The goalkeeper was sent off half-an-hour into Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Leeds for supposed deliberate handball in which he denied a goalscoring opportunity.
He had come out of his box to challenge home striker Chris Wood to a through ball. Referee Gavin Ward judged that Pickford had used the top of his arm to clear the ball and was initially going to book him.
Then on the advice of one of his assistants who saw it as a clear goalscoring opportunity for Wood, Mr Ward changed the colour of card to red.
North End appealed to the FA on two fronts, on the grounds that Pickford had not handled the ball – it had struck his chest – and that Wood was not through on goal as Paul Huntington was back covering.
An FA regulatory committee met at Wembley yesterday afternoon, upholding the appeal and rescinding the red card which allows Pickford to play against Huddersfield on Boxing Day.
PNE boss Simon Grayson said: “We thought we had a strong case.
“We had a lot of footage of the incident where we agreed among ourselves that the ball had hit Jordan’s chest.
“The referee’s report said he sent him off for deliberate handball and also for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
“Our case was that it was not deliberate handball because it hit him in the chest but also the direction where Wood was heading was to Jordan’s left where Paul Huntington was coming around to cover.”
North End skipper Tom Clarke was close to the incident and feels a sense of justice has been done.
Clarke said: “I’ve watched it back since and you could see the ball didn’t hit Jordan’s arm.
“The referee initially got the yellow card out and we all turned away.
“Then someone has spoken in his ear to say it was a red and he has gone with their word.
“It is still disappointing because Jordan being sent off spoilt the game.
“Jordan is a top-class keeper, a great communicator and shot-stopper, so we would have backed ourselves to get something, had we kept 11 men on the pitch.”
Interestingly, Leeds boss Steve Evans claimed after the game that the referee had been ‘bob-on’ and it had been a ‘clear handball’.
Had Pickford’s appeal been unsuccessful, PNE would have turned to Chris Kirkland for Boxing Day.
Kirkland missed the Leeds game because of a virus but returned to training yesterday.
Matt Hudson went in goal when Pickford was sent off, coming on for his senior debut at the age of 17.
The clock is ticking on the time Pickford has left at Deepdale, with Sunderland set to recall him from his loan after Christmas – the Hull game is likely to be his last.