It was impossible not to feel sorry for Jakob Haugaard during Brighton’s promotion party on Monday.
The Wigan Athletic goalkeeper must have been wishing the ground would open up and swallow him, as he struggled to get his hands to anything that came his way.
Fortunately, it was only a mixture of poor finishing and desperate defending that Brighton didn’t take full advantage on the scoreline.
It was the third game in a row that Haugaard had looked shaky and ill at ease, since replacing Matt Gilks in the starting line-up.
Under normal circumstances, one might assume Graham Barrow would be considering making a change between the sticks.
If only his hands weren’t being tied by a piece of self-imposed red tape that’s in danger of strangling the game.
There was plenty of eyebrow-raising when, just four days after tipping Matt Gilks for a Scotland recall following his fine display at Ipswich, Barrow restored Haugaard to the starting XI for the visit of Rotherham.
After a shaky display, Barrow admitted his hands had been tied and the selection decision had been made above his head.
Due to the terms of Haugaard’s loan signing from Stoke in January, it’s understood the big Dane has to play in every game between now and the end of the season - fitness permitting - or Latics must pay a ‘penalty clause’.
It’s an arrangement that has become gradually more commonplace in the game over the last few years.
The thinking, obviously, is that clubs sending players down the footballing pyramid want them to get as much action as possible rather than sitting on a bench.
But in cases like this, it not only serves no useful purpose – but it is actually damaging every single one of the parties involved.
Firstly, Barrow is being prevented from picking his best team.
He may already have been promised a role under whoever takes over the permanent managerial reins at Wigan next term, but no-one wants relegation on his CV.
Secondly, Gilks is having to play second fiddle when he is currently – and clearly – the best available option.
Thirdly, Haugaard is being done no favours whatsoever by being sent on to the field with his confidence and belief completely and utterly shot to pieces.
A striker can have a few bad games, but is only ever one goal away from turning it around.
A goalkeeper is the loneliest man on the field.
Any mistake is magnified, and an under-pressure custodian’s desperation to make amends can only increase the pressure, and therefore the likelihood of further errors.
The defenders in front of him will feed on that unease, exacerbating the issue – possibly causing resentment.
Some fans have asked why Latics would agree to such a clause in the first place.
Think back to the turn of the year, when Jussi Jaaskelainen was the only fit custodian on the books.
Even the Academy goalies were getting crocked!
At one point, an injury to Jaaskelainen would have meant an outfield player facing Derby on New Year’s Eve, such was the crisis at hand.
In short, Latics were desperate. And Haugaard initially showed huge promise, saving a penalty on debut, and impressing until getting injured in February.
Since then, Gilks – who arrived at the end of January – has come in and, having excelled, should have stayed in.
Some fans have asked why Latics don’t just pay the ‘penalty clause’ to Stoke.
They rightly point out the club received £7million for Yanic Wildschut only a few weeks ago.
But that money will be required to fill the expected £10-12million drop in income when Wigan’s parachute payments cease this summer.
Put simply, a six-figure sum is no longer small change to Latics.
Relegation, sadly, usually means redundancies behind the scenes at any club.
The ‘penalty clause’ would cover the wages of several members of staff.
Put it like this, if I worked for the club – with a family and a mortgage to pay – I know what I’d want them to do with it.
This situation is not even in Stoke’s best interests.
What good is it to them to have a promising – and, by the way, very likeable – young man being publicly stripped of every last bit of confidence, belief and dignity?
Fortunately, there’s still time for a common-sense solution to be found to this mess – preferably via a phone call between the two clubs.
And hopefully legislation will be put in place to prevent this shambolic situation affecting anyone else in the future.
Sometimes you’re the Seagull...and sometimes the statue...
And it was impossible to escape the sense of a ‘sliding doors’ moment on Monday as Brighton and Wigan Athletic remained on course to leave the Championship by different exit doors.
The mastermind of the Seagulls’ promotion-winning campaign has been Chris Hughton, one of the most respected managers and, by all accounts, thoroughly decent men in the game.
A man who applied for the vacant Latics managerial post in November 2014, only to lose out to a certain M. Mackay.
Don’t spend too much time – or cry too much – wondering how different it all could have been...