Neil Warnock accused Reading’s players of encouraging Zac Thompson’s dismissal after 10-man Leeds United suffered a dramatic defeat at the Madejski Stadium.
Warnock claimed the young midfielder was “unlucky” to incur the red card which left Leeds to fight a numerical disadvantage for more than an hour against the Championship’s leaders.
Thompson departed for an early bath after catching Reading winger Jobi McAnuff with a loose tackle in the 13th minute.
United held out until six minutes from time before finally succumbing to a brace from Adam Le Fondre as Reading took another step towards promotion with a 2-0 win, effectively confirming that Leeds are heading for a third season in the Championship.
Warnock expressed frustration with the performance of referee Darren Drysdale, claiming the official had overlooked worse challenges than Thompson’s when Danny Pugh fouled Jem Karacan and Noel Hunt collided with United goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
But he was left to rue chances missed by Ross McCormack and Robert Snodgrass with the game goalless deep into the second half.
A proud Leeds manager said: “The players were fantastic under the circumstances. We had a makeshift team and I didn’t think they had a shot on goal until they scored.
“We played really well under the cosh and I’m right pleased.
“But I’ve never seen players surround the referee like they did here. It does influence him. We’re told not to do it but everybody seems to.
“Straight away he gives the red card and I thought the kid was unlucky, having watched it three or four times. The ref only sees it once but when you’ve got the crowd and five or six players around you straight away, you tend to react.
“I don’t think it’s a red card, not when you see it in slow motion. I thought Pugh’s tackle was worse. He should have been sent off and Hunt’s challenge on Lonergan was a disgrace.”
Reading struggled to cut through Warnock’s defence despite Thompson’s dismissal, and United’s chances to snatch an unlikely win came in quick succession as McCormack struck the outside of a post and Snodgrass drove a weak finish from eight yards straight at goalkeeper Adam Federici.
“We had the best chances,” Warnock said. “We can’t blame anybody for that but ourselves.
“I’d have expected Ross to score his and Rob didn’t have the belief he needed. He wanted to hit the target instead of just smashing it.
“If Snodgrass scores we win the game because they panic like hell with 20 minutes to go. We’ve had an opportunity to beat the best side in the league in my eyes – and that’s with made-up side. I’m absolutely delighted.”
Thompson’s sending off was a pivotal moment at an early stage of the game, coming as Leeds attempted to fight through a spell of pressure from Reading.
Reading manager Brian McDermott also believed Pugh should also have been dismissed for his sliding challenge on Karacan, saying: “One or two tackles were questionable.
“The referee took the decision to send the young lad (Thompson) off but Pugh made a tackle on Jem which was a certain red card. He should have been sent off.
“It was very difficult for us and Adam Federici made a crucial save at 0-0 but if you need someone to score a goal, we’ve got the perfect man.”