By Keith Hackett

21st Sep, 2021 | 8:00am

Ex-Premier League referee hits back as Johnson fumes over Sunderland controversy

Keith Hackett has backed the referee’s decision to award Fleetwood Town a last-gasp penalty against Sunderland.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the ex-FIFA and Premier League referee insisted grappling in the box needs to be punished more consistently.

In the 96th minute, Bailey Wright was adjudged to have fouled Callum Morton in the box with Sunderland clinging on to a 2-1 lead.

Ged Garner scored from the spot to earn the hosts a vital point.

As quoted by Chronicle Live, Lee Johnson insisted his side were undone by “bad refereeing”.

Asked for his assessment of the incident, Hackett told Football Insider correspondent Connor Whitley: “Well, if we get holding offences and they are penalised consistently by referees then it will stop the problem.

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“The referee’s in a good position, a really good position to see it.

“That’s the danger. If a player holds the shirt of an opponent, that’s penalised. In terms of law, the referee has seen it and penalised it. He’s clearly shown what it’s for.

“I don’t have any complaints. I think the referee has got it right.

“I’ve questioned the inconsistency of refereeing and when a referee decides to punish it, they get criticised.

“For me, I support the referee.”

Saturday’s result knocked Sunderland off the top of League One as they sit below Wigan Athletic on goal difference.

They have lost just one of their opening seven games and have won five in Johnson’s first full season in charge of the northeast giants.

In other news, Kevin Phillips has tipped Sunderland to unleash a “secret weapon” after a Johnson update.