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Monday Moan: United can't blame referee

Mark Holmes gives his verdict on the incidents involving Man United, Liverpool, Man City, Hull, Aston Villa and Chelsea over the weekend.

Last Updated: 17/03/14 at 16:15 Post Comment

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Credit to Clattenburg

It must be hard enough to referee a Manchester United v Liverpool game at the best of times, but never can there have been as many big calls to make as there were for Mark Clattenburg in Sunday's clash between the rivals at Old Trafford.

For me, his toughest call surrounded Liverpool's first penalty appeal when Luis Suarez appeared to be knocked off his stride by Marouane Fellaini but it was so difficult to spot the contact even after viewing replays that it was probably the right decision by Clattenburg to give the benefit of the doubt to the defending player.

You could argue he again did United a favour when he did award a penalty for Rafael's obvious handball but decided against showing the Brazilian a second yellow card following an earlier bad tackle on Steven Gerrard.

However, while Rafael was perhaps lucky to avoid being sent-off by the letter of the law, it was nice to see Clattenburg show some leniency at a time when red cards are dished out like flyers outside of a nightclub.

Clattenburg's third big call of the game came just after half-time when Phil Jones clattered into the back of Joe Allen when contesting a high ball. He did so with enough force and was sufficiently far away enough from getting to the ball to warrant the penalty, in my opinion. So, again, Clattenburg deserves credit.

Assuming he saw Glen Johnson's arm brushing the ball later on at the other end, the referee was spot on again to wave away United's appeal for a penalty. It was an unintentional handball by Johnson and didn't divert the course of the ball.

Wayne Rooney's appeal for a penalty following a challenge from Martin Skrtel also correctly fell on deaf ears but United were certainly hard done by when Clattenburg awarded the visitors a third penalty when Daniel Sturridge went down under a challenge from Nemanja Vidic.

This, in my opinion, is the incident most worth debating.

The first thing that must be said is that Clattenburg can't be blamed for awarding the penalty as Sturridge's dive was so convincing - he collapsed as he stepped between Vidic's outstretched legs - that it's unlikely anyone spotted it until viewing a replay.

Clattenburg was inconsistent in showing a second yellow card to Vidic having earlier let Rafael off, but what was most interesting was that Brendan Rodgers defended Sturridge, claiming he was "anticipating the contact" and "certainly hadn't dived".

Regular readers are well aware of my thoughts on the 'anticipating the contact' excuse is a big bugbear of mine but anyone that genuinely believes Sturridge was not intentionally cheating and was looking to protect himself from injury might want to question why he did not admit to the referee that he had not been touched, as Werder Bremen's Aaron Hunt did recently. And to think some people still try to claim foreign players are to blame for the diving plague!

It is also interesting to note that, while most Liverpool fans condemned the dive afterwards - whether they would have done the same had it been for a converted penalty in a 1-0 win remains to be seen - former referee Graham Poll has argued Clattenburg was right to award a penalty as, despite making no contact, Vidic still 'impeded the progress' of Sturridge.

That was absolutely not the case in my opinion but it was only two months ago that football fans were split over whether Luis Suarez deserved a penalty when deciding to go down under a challenge from the onrushing Brad Guzan.

I argued he didn't, incidentally, but many insisted the speed at which Guzan's rash actions warranted a penalty, irrespective of whether or not he genuinely felled Suarez.

The fact that far few people are backing the Sturridge penalty call simply proves the hypocrisy of many involved in football. The rules are so open to interpretation that it is easy to hide behind the ambiguity to make a case either for or against almost any decision, depending on your persuasion.

As I keep saying, we all have a role to play in being honest about players diving to win penalties if we are serious as football fans in wanting simulation stamped out.

Moving back to Sunday's game, Liverpool should have been awarded a fourth penalty when Sturridge was legitimately tripped by Michael Carrick so in this case two wrong decisions evened themselves out.

The likelihood is that Liverpool would have won the game without any of the penalties, incidentally, as United once again struggled to impose themselves on a game.

I have made my thoughts on David Moyes quite clear already but, although his players undoubtedly do deserve a share of the blame, the extent to which sections of the media are willing to absolve the manager is quite astonishing.

Yes, United's squad needs strengthening. But it is still the same squad that won the Premier League title last season - plus Fellaini and Juan Mata - and the blame for their incredible drop in performances this term simply has to be laid squarely at the feet of Moyes, whose tactical and motivational skills are made to look weaker by every passing week.

More referee controversy

There were a number of other refereeing decisions made in the Premier League over the weekend that have got people talking, the majority of which occurred in the first and last games on Saturday.

In the opener at the KC Stadium, referee Lee Mason's decision to show a straight red card to Vincent Kompany was the right one, in my opinion. His initial jostling for the ball with Nikica Jelavic was not out of the ordinary - the City skipper will have been disappointed with himself for unusually losing out in such a physical battle - but he clearly pulled down the Hull striker and had to go. However, anyone expressing any sort of outrage over Kompany's reaction to the decision should watch ballet instead.

The same can be said of anyone offended by Joe Hart's angry face-off with George Boyd after he had dived in an attempt to win a penalty for Hull. These sort of confrontations are always going to occur in a physical game, and nobody should worry themselves about them.

However, Boyd could face retrospective action from the Football Association for appearing to deliberately spit at Hart - the FA proved recently when banning Charlie Adam that they are willing to punish on the basis of probability so Boyd can have few complaints if he too is banned for an action which is pretty disgusting, if not quite deserving of the outrage sometimes expressed about a bit of spit.

Regarding the penalty incident itself, the ever-changing views of the football world have once again been on display with nobody claiming Boyd should have had a penalty despite Hart diving for the ball without getting to it. Rest assured many will claim exactly that the next time the player of a title-chasing club dives following a similar challenge by a goalkeeper.

The game in East Yorkshire was also witness to the weekend's second worst tackle from Ahmed Elmohamady on David Silva, the worst coming from Ramires later in the day in another action-packed game between Aston Villa and Chelsea in the Midlands.

Ramires' tackle was worse than anything you are likely to see all season but, as Karim El Ahmadi escaped serious injury, Ramires will escape vilification and a smeared reputation. In football, the punishment often does not fit the crime.

Unfortunately for Chris Foy, his decision to show a red card to Ramires for the challenge was one of the few decisions he got right during the game.

Joe Bennett was certainly fortunate to escape a red card for scything down Ramires as he raced through on goal in first-half stoppage time, but Villa were also fortunate in my opinion to see Nemanja Matic's goal just before that ruled out for handball.

On a weekend which saw Stoke's Marc Muniesa and Fulham's John Heitinga escape punishment for handballs in the box as defenders - both incidents were spotted by the referee, who decided the handballs were accidental - Chelsea might certainly feel hard done by that Matic was penalised for the ball touching his arm as he controlled the ball with his chest. Had a defender been penalised for the same sort of contact, it would have quite rightly been viewed as extremely harsh.

Wilian can also consider himself hard done by to have been shown a second yellow card for an innocuous challenge on Delph.

They say that refereeing decisions even themselves out over a season, and Chelsea have definitely benefited from some going in their favour, but things certainly went against them over a weekend which could well prove crucial to their title hopes.

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