REFEREE Keith Stroud will take charge of Brighton against Nottingham Forest on Friday night in the opening match of the new SkyBet Football League season.
The 45-year-old from Hampshire has been selected to oversee the televised Championship match at the AMEX Stadium which launches the 2015-16 campaign (KO 7:45pm, live on Sky Sports).
He will be assisted in West Sussex by linesmen Ian Cooper (Kent) and Daniel Leach (Oxfordshire) while the fourth official will be Brendan Malone (Wiltshire).
The vastly-experienced former Premier League referee Stroud was handed a trial game in the top-flight last term and booked just two players in an incident-free match between Crystal Palace and Leicester at Selhurst Park.
He also encountered Premier League sides in the Capital One Cup after handling high-profile ties at Anfield and the Emirates Stadium – and others involving Everton and Fulham the previous season.
The boyhood Luton Town supporter officiated 41 games across seven different competitions last term – giving out 183 yellow cards, sending off seven players and awarding 14 penalties.
Regularly considered for key matches across the three divisions due to his unrivalled knowledge and excellent fitness, Stroud took charge of 18 Championship games in 2014-15 as well as 10 in League One and five in League Two.
He enjoyed another busy campaign full of important matches and was a consistent performer throughout including a controlled display in the East Anglian derby at Portman Road in August among other derby matches.
Stroud took charge of Watford’s promotion-clinching win at Brighton and the decisive third-tier encounter on the final day between Colchester and Preston with the hosts needing a win to stay up and the visitors requiring a victory for automatic promotion.
His efforts throughout the season were duly rewarded when handed the responsibility of a fourth play-off semi-final as Stevenage drew 1-1 with Southend in the first leg of their League Two tie.
However, he was the rare subject of criticism from Derby boss Steve McClaren after their 2-0 defeat at Wolves in a televised Friday night match at Molineux in which the Bournemouth-based whistler disallowed a Tom Ince goal and awarded Derby a free-kick instead of a penalty at 0-0.
Stroud was also at the helm for the opening game of the 2012-13 to kick-start the Football League’s 125th anniversary campaign and sent off Notts County midfielder Gary Liddle after just 13 minutes in their 2-1 League One defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
A few months earlier, he sent off three players and awarded four penalties on his previous trip to the Steel City in an eventful 2-2 draw between promotion-chasers Sheffield United and Brentford.
He is one of the most experienced in the Football League and has been in the middle twice at Wembley – for the 2004 Conference Play-Off Final between Aldershot and Shrewsbury and the 2013 League Two final as Bradford beat Northampton 3-0.
Stroud could be involved in the middle at the national stadium for a third time this term with the Kent-based official among the leading contenders for the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final.
The Hampshire FA Referee Developing Manager first took up the whistle in 1988 and progressed through the ranks to become a Select Group assistant referee in 2002 when he was appointed as a linesman to the 2003 FA Cup Final.
He became a National List referee in 2004 with his first Football League game being Scunthorpe’s 2-0 win at Cheltenham in League Two before impressing in a trial Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Manchester City in 2007.
Stroud, who belongs to Hampshire FA, was promoted to the top-flight at the start of the 2007-08 campaign but demoted back to the National List in May 2009 after just two seasons as a full-time official.
Following his debut in February 2006 when Blackburn welcomed Sunderland to Ewood Park, he oversaw a further 13 matches before being deemed to have fallen below the required standards of officiating and was dropped along with fellow referee Steve Tanner.
Last season’s Championship opener was handled by Andy Madley (West Yorkshire) as Blackburn came from behind to draw 1-1 with Cardiff at Ewood Park in a game watched by PGMOL performance director Howard Webb.
LAST FIVE FOOTBALL LEAGUE OPENERS:
2014-15: Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Cardiff City (Championship)
Referee: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire)
2013-14: Sheffield United 2-1 Notts County (League One)
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)
2012-13: Cardiff City 1-0 Huddersfield Town (Championship)
Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire)
2011-12: Hull City 0-1 Blackpool (Championship)
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Cheshire)
2010-11: Norwich City 2-3 Watford (Championship)
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham)
FINAL DAY DRAMA….
Never mind the excitement of the opening weekend in the Football League, Keith Stroud is often called upon to handle the raw emotion of agony and ecstasy on the final day of a season.
In the past four seasons, he has taken charge of matches during the last round of regular fixtures which have something riding on them in the battle for promotion or survival.
In 2011-12, Stroud was the man in black when Gillingham drew 1-1 at Northampton – a result which scuppered their hopes of a League Two play-off place.
12 months later he was in charge at the KC Stadium for a dramatic 2-2 draw between Hull and Championship champions Cardiff with the Tigers doing enough to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League. Stroud sent off Cardiff defender Andrew Taylor for two yellows.
In 2013-14, it was a busy end to the season for Stroud, who oversaw Burnley’s 2-0 win over Wigan which sealed their top-flight return before Brighton’s 2-1 final-day win at Nottingham Forest which guaranteed their Championship play-off place and Rotherham’s 3-1 play-off semi-final second leg win over Preston in League One.
And last term, the Dorset referee was at the helm for Colchester’s vital 1-0 victory over Preston which preserved their League One status and denied the visitors a second-placed finish. Stroud awarded Tony Humes’s team a penalty before their winner but Chris Porter blazed it over.
ELSEWHERE THIS WEEKEND….
Premier League referee Kevin Friend will be in charge of Saturday’s televised lunchtime kick-off between Leeds United and relegated Burnley at Elland Road (KO 12:30pm, live on Sky Sports).
The 42-year-old Leicestershire official was in the middle for 23 top-flight games last term as well as the 2012 Community Shield at Villa Park and 2013 Capital One Cup Final at Wembley.
He will be assisted in Yorkshire by newly-promoted Select Group linesman Andrew Fox and Constantine Hatzidakis while the fourth official will be Football League whistler Richard Clark from Northumberland.
Sunday’s live match between promoted Preston North End and play-off final runners-up Middlesbrough at Deepdale will be officiated by Manchester’s Chris Kavanagh.
Although a surprise appointment, it is an early sign that the highly-rated 29-year-old could make further progress this term after receiving eight Championship games in his debut season as a National List referee in 2014-15.
He was also the fourth official for the FA Vase Final between Glossop North End and North Shields at Wembley Stadium.