MICHAEL Appleton was critical of referee Keith Hill and his officials after Oxford United lost 1-0 to a controversial penalty against Northampton Town last night.

Marc Richards converted the spot-kick just before the hour, when Johnny Mullins was penalised.

The ball struck the centre back’s hand, but United appeared to have a good case for saying it was accidental.

While it was the biggest moment of the night, the officials also came under pressure for questionable decisions throughout and after the full-time whistle, Appleton was quick to make his feelings known.

It was a rare outburst of emotion from the U’s head coach, who was very unimpressed with the display.

He said: “I’m not going to try and hide from that.

“It was not a good night for the officials and I think they know that.”

He added: “We’ve lost a very tight game to a very poor decision.”

The goal came shortly after John-Joe O’Toole had crashed a shot against the crossbar, while goalkeeper Benji Buchel made smart saves either side of half-time to keep out headers from Richards and Danny Rose.

Appleton admitted his side, who struck the woodwork through Chris Maguire, were not at their best in the final third, but had put in a performance which merited a point.

He said: “I’m proud of the way they played, it was difficult at times.

“We got into some fantastic positions, but we just lacked a little bit of composure in the box.

“If you lose to fine margins it’s difficult to be critical, but the way we lost is tough to take.”

Northampton worked hard to disrupt their hosts, who looked below their best, although left back Joe Skarz saw little wrong.

He said: “I disagree, I didn’t think we played badly. We’ve definitely played worse than that and won games.

“It could have gone either way and the first goal was always going to be crucial.”

United also lost skipper Jake Wright in the second half with a hamstring problem, which will be assessed over the next 24 hours.