Sydney's Smeltz not to blame for Newcastle keeper’s injuries

Shane Smeltz of Sydney gestures to Mark Birighitti of the Jets as he is escorted from the field after clashing with Smeltz while making a save at Hunter Stadium in Newcastle. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

SHANE Smeltz has copped a fair amount of criticism after the challenge which left Newcastle Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti requiring surgery on his teeth.

However, I think Jets coach Scott Miller is way off the mark in laying the blame at the feet of the New Zealand international.

I understand that Miller, who is new to the coaching game, would want to protect his player, but some of his comments regarding the challenge defy belief.

Yes, Birighitti was left with blood streaming from his face after Smeltz' boot caught him, and he also lost three teeth, but there is no way the veteran striker meant to catch the keeper. In fact, Sydney FC boss Graham Arnold said his player was "distraught in the dressing room" after the game.

Jets coach Miller had other ideas, however, saying: "That's nothing short of outrageous that challenge if you look at (Birighitti's) mouth.

"That's not on, in life or in football. Irrespective if it's a mistake or unintentional, it's not right.

"I'm not blaming (Smeltz), it's a consequence of football and the actions relevant to it. But it's about the decision-making.
"There's a borderline competitive side to a football match and then there's outrageous and reckless."

I am really not sure where Miller is coming from with these comments. As a striker I am not sure what Smeltz was supposed to do.

He was quite clearly going for the ball, and if I was his coach and he didn't make that challenge I would be asking him questions after the game.

Smeltz was involved in a similar incident playing for the now defunct Gold Coast United against the Jets in 2010, which left keeper Neil Young with a broken nose.

I am sure his intention was not to hurt Birighitti, and I am sure that Birighitti would be the first to say that as a goalkeeper a kick in the head is an occupational hazard when you are paid to dive at the feet of an ongoing forward who is looking to score.

If referees blow up for free-kicks every time this happens then I fear for the game as we know it.

You don't want to see players getting injured, but if we take these sorts of challenges out of the game we are in danger of sanitising football too much.

There has been talk that Smeltz might face retrospective action from the A-League's match review committee.

I think if that happens it will set a very bad precedent and the game will be worse off for it.

I have to agree with Sky Blues coach Arnold, who said: "It's not good that it happens to anyone. Let's hope he (Birighitti) recovers quickly. He was brave coming out the way he did.

"The ball was there (to be won)… it's the competitive nature of sport."