Referee Mark Halsey made the astonishing admission on Saturday evening that the complaints of Arsenal players to a penalty awarded at Fulham had encouraged him to change his mind and reverse the decision.

Halsey was caught in a storm of controversy by a string of decisions at Craven Cottage, with Fulham boss Chris Coleman angrily labelling his performance as “crap”.

After all, not only did he reverse his penalty decision, but he also denied Arsenal a strong spot-kick claim and disallowed a header by Fulham striker Collins John.

However, the most startling moment came after the final whistle had blown on a 3-0 win by Arsenal, who extended their lead at the top of the Premiership.

While Halsey must be applauded for explaining himself and apologising to Coleman, he effectively conceded that, if several Arsenal players had not complained, he may have allowed the penalty to stand.

“Initially, a challenge came in from Ashley Cole on Andy Cole. My initial reaction was ‘Penalty’,” he revealed.

“But the players’ reactions from both sides put a little bit of doubt in my mind. I thought ‘Have I got this decision correct’?

“If I gave the penalty, I then had to think about whether to dismiss Ashley Cole for denying a goalscoring opportunity.

“I needed to buy a little bit of time so I went across to my assistant, Dave Bryan, who had a great view.

“He informed me that Andy Cole had played the ball into Jens Lehmann’s hands. The TV replays clearly show that.”

Asked what would have happened if Arsenal had not complained, Halsey added: “You can look at Andy Cole as well [banging his fist on the floor] as perhaps he’s missed a golden opportunity.

“You don’t know. If none of the players had argued it then maybe you could say that, but player reaction put a doubt in my mind.”

The referee insisted Ashley Cole had not only failed to make contact with the ball, but had also not fouled his namesake Andy.

“He just comes in and puts in a challenge. Both players went for the ball together, but Andy Cole has got the ball and played it into the keeper’s hands.”

Halsey stood by his other two controversial decisions, with Coleman firmly believing John’s header should not have been ruled out for a push

“All I know is that TV have told me that John Motson clearly indicated there was a push,” argued the official.

And while Arsenal were sure they had also deserved a penalty for a foul on Thierry Henry, Halsey claimed: “You can see a clear deflection of the ball when it goes in a different direction.”