Whatever you think of referee Alex King’s decision to send off Nestory Irankunda on Saturday night, the teenage Adelaide United tyro shouldn’t have let his emotions get the better of him.
King’s decision not to award the 17-year-old a free-kick deep into stoppage time for what looked like a foul by Melbourne Victory substitute Chris Ikonomidis felt like a harsh call.
Irankunda had Victory’s measure throughout the game, so it was no surprise to see the beleaguered home team resort to fouling the flying winger at every turn in a desperate attempt to stop him.
Victory captain Roderick Miranda was deservedly sent off for two fouls on the electrifying Reds front man in quick succession, with the Portuguese defender dismissed shortly after Hiroshi Ibusuki’s 59th-minute equaliser.
But even if King got the decision wrong to award Irankunda a second yellow for his reaction after the young referee failed to award Adelaide a free-kick deep into stoppage-time, Irankunda still shouldn’t have reacted like he did.
Yes, he’s just a kid.
And yes, the Victory fans booed him relentlessly towards the back end of the game – at times even mistaking substitute Musa Toure for the quicksilver Irankunda.
But the only thing to be gained from his furious response towards King was a second yellow card, and the Reds did well to get Irankunda off the pitch before he did even further damage.
In that sense Victory defender Connor Chapman was no help – racing over to Irankunda and ushering him towards the dressing room.
But here’s the thing: much as we all enjoy watching Irankunda light up the league, it’s not up to his opponents to feel sorry for him for getting sent off.
Chapman was rightly yellow-carded for his role in the fracas but unlike Nestory, he wasn’t already on a booking.
Victory coach Tony Popovic echoed pretty much all of our thoughts when he sympathised with the Adelaide tearaway in the post-match press conference.
“I’ve been there as a young player and you feel the world’s ended in that moment,” Popovic said.
“It’s a split-second decision, you know, (and) I didn’t want him to do something he’ll regret.”
Former Reds striker Bruce Djite wasn’t having a bar of it in the post-game reaction on Channel Ten and Paramount+, calling Irankunda’s dismissal “an absolute joke”.
“Do we want referees not protecting the hottest, brightest prospects in Australian football?”
Djite’s right – and I myself thought Irankunda was fouled and should have won a free-kick – but we need to be careful not to throw King under the bus when it’s hard enough to attract referees to the game.
The fact is that was one of the most tempestuous Original Rivalry clashes in recent years and it was a good thing King blew full-time when he did.
The same could probably be said for the Newcastle Jets, who let slip a two-goal lead on Sunday afternoon and were fortunate to come away with a 2-2 draw against the fast-finishing Western Sydney Wanderers.
The Jets deservedly went 2-0 up at a rain-soaked McDonald Jones Stadium thanks to a couple of spectacular finishes from Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, only to be pegged back by one of the scrappiest goals of the season from Josh Brillante.
The Wanderers equalised through a clinical first-ever A-League goal from their new Swedish striker Marcus Antonsson, and thought they had a late penalty when Dane Ingham was adjudged to have handled a bouncing Nicolas Milanovic cross just after the Swede’s goal.
But VAR correctly ruled that Ingham did not handle the ball and the Wanderers had to head back down the F3 with only a point in hand – and a personal thank you to fans who travelled up on the supporter bus from head coach Marko Rudan.
But the main talking point was undoubtedly Irankunda’s red card.
It rules him out of next Saturday night’s blockbuster against Sydney FC and will perhaps make German giants Bayern München think twice about signing him.
But not for long.
Like a league us diehards refuse to walk away from, Irankunda is simply too good to ignore.