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Fergie blames it on the Ref

last updated Monday 23rd March 2009, 9:17 AM

Man Utd manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Man Utd manager
Sir Alex Ferguson
When a team of serial winners starts losing as a habit there is clearly something wrong. Manchester United have lost as many leagues games in one week as in the previous 10 months and their supporters would feel a lot more reassured if it were not for the fact that, on both occasions, they have gone down without a great deal of dignity. The damage may still be only superficial but it does, at the very least, inflict upon them the kind of anxieties to which they seemed immune not long ago.

Aston Villa are the next visitors to Old Trafford and, despite their own slump, the fact they have not won there for 26 years might look more of a threat than it was previously a reason for confidence. Fulham, after all, had not beaten United at Craven Cottage since 1964. A week earlier Liverpool's 4-1 mauling of the champions was their biggest win at Old Trafford since 1936. Almost inexplicably, United have gone from being trumpeted as possibly the best British side of all time to one that is handing out once-in-a-lifetime results as indiscriminately as someone chucking out breadcrumbs for the pigeons.

What we saw on Saturday, when United finished the game with nine men, looked suspiciously like a side that was struggling to cope now the pressure is close to intolerable. OK, Paul Scholes's red card when he handled Bobby Zamora's goal-bound header, allowing Danny Murphy to put Fulham ahead from the penalty spot, was an instinctive reaction, something that can easily happen. But Wayne Rooney's sending-off came from a loss of self-control that, coupled with Cristiano Ronaldo's tiresome histrionics, epitomised United's lack of care and judgment.

At least Sir Alex Ferguson did not try to pass them off as the "better team", as he had done after the humiliation against Liverpool. But wait. Did the most experienced manager in the business really try to argue that Phil Dowd could have let off Scholes? "He could have easily not given it," Ferguson claimed in a demonstration of how football managers see the game how they want to see it and to heck with the facts. His disclaimer was a classic. "But it's Phil Dowd, so what do you expect?"

The truth was that Fulham outpassed, outscored and, for long spells, outplayed their opponents. Their performance in the opening 45 minutes was the best, according to Hodgson, they have played under him and, almost unnoticed, the club have reached 40 points with eight games to spare. At this rate Hodgson should be on any shortlist for manager of the season.

They certainly deserved better than for their opponents to resort to the classic cop-out of trying to blame Dowd, now fully confirmed alongside Steve Bennett and Martin Atkinson among the referees Ferguson dislikes most.

United's manager also complained about Rooney's second yellow card, when the forward picked up the ball and hurled it roughly in the direction, but actually a fair distance beyond, where United had a free-kick. "Did he throw the ball in anger? Yes, because he wanted the game to be hurried up," came Ferguson's defence. "Did he throw the ball at the ref? No, the ball went to where the free-kick was taken."

Notwithstanding the fact that this was not true (the ball went past everyone and was not even close to a United player), the most important question was this: was Rooney asking for trouble? Dowd had already flashed six yellow cards and one red as well as warning Ronaldo he was one more misplaced word away from being sent off. Rooney's was a fit of pique, coming only two minutes after Zoltan Gera had hooked in the second goal, and he is fortunate that the FA is unlikely to take any action over the way he left the pitch, punching the corner flag as he went. Rooney is 23 now, not 18. He has been around long enough not to put himself in these situations.

In addition, there could be more problems on the horizon for United after Dimitar Berbatov, who had been replaced by Rooney at half-time, was ruled out of Bulgaria's World Cup qualifiers against the Republic of Ireland and Cyprus with an ankle injury.

As for Ronaldo, this was one of those wearisome afternoons when he played with the soul of a pickpocket, trying to get opponents sent off, eyeballing the officials, exaggerating injuries – in short, the whole everyone-is-against-me routine. At one point he spent so long portraying himself as the victim, repeatedly pulling up his shorts to show Dowd a scrape on his thigh, the referee demonstrated how little he cared by doing exactly the same with his own leg. Dowd might as well have made a W for Whatever with his fingers.

Ronaldo also committed the worst tackle of the game, a scything lunge on Murphy, and at the final whistle he flounced down the tunnel without shaking the hand of a single Fulham player or bothering to applaud the away fans. At the same time his marker, John Pantsil, was performing a one-man lap of honour.

Source Guardian
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