Sir Alex Ferguson slammed referee Martin Atkinson following Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea skipper John Terry, scorer of the game’s only goal, glanced in Frank Lampard’s free-kick to hand Chelsea a five point Premier League lead. Ferguson, already in hot water with the FA, blamed Atkinson for awarding 77th minute set piece.
Ferguson complained that the referee was in the wrong place to award a free kick, for Darren Fletcher’s clean challenge on Ashley Cole, and that Didier Drogba fouled Wes Brown as Lampard swung the ball in. Moreover, Drogba was standing in an offside position – in front of Edwin van der Sar – as Terry’s header hit the net.
“The referee’s position to make the decision [for the goal] was absolutely ridiculous. He can’t see anything. It was a bad decision,” said Ferguson.
“You lose faith in refereeing, that’s the way the players see it.
“That goal should never have been allowed. We’ve dominated the game. We’ve had great chances to win the match and not taken them – and that’s our fault.
“We had great opportunities to get to the edge of the box and some really good chances in and around the box, but we should be finishing it off. We’ve only ourselves to blame in that respect. But you do need a break – and we never got the break we needed.”
United, now five points behind the Londoners in the title race, will feel hard done by after dominating for large periods of the game. With central defensive pairing Rio Ferdinand and Nemnja Vidic missing through injury, Wes Brown and Jonny Evans tempered the threat of in-form Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka. The United pair were subject to criticism after the 3-3 draw with CSKA Moscow last week but Ferguson can take confidence from a brave performance by Brown and Evans.
“It’s very hard to take, we played really well,” Brown told MUTV after the match.
“I thought we played really well as a team and passed the ball brilliantly. We were the better team and had more chances. We should have done better with our chances, but we definitely didn’t deserve this result and it’s tough because we go home with no points.
“I don’t think the referee played well and we’ve been let down by that goal. The decision to award the free kick was harsh. Then Drogba was holding me and pulling me down, obstructing me from challenging for the ball when the free kick came in the box. The ref didn’t see that either – what can we do about it?”
Antonio Valencia, who caused Chelsea problems as he pushed up on the right-wing limiting Ashley Cole’s forward surges, was unlucky when denied a penalty during the first half after John Terry clearly tugged the Ecuadorian to the floor inside the box.
Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick also went close for United, with the former Tottenham Hotspur man finding space to shoot three times from outside the Chelsea box. Then Wayne Rooney almost found the net in the second half, first with a drive just inches wide from the edge of the box, and then with an effort that nearly curled into Cech’s top left corner.
United’s game-plan only came unstuck when Atkinson – out of position - failed to spot Drogba’s foul on Brown as Terry flicked in Lampard’s free-kick. United can also feel aggrieved by the decision to award the free-kick in the first place after the oustanding Fletcher’s tackle on Ashley Cole and the assistant’s failure of the to spot Drogba’s offside position.
“We didn’t think it was a foul in the first place [Fletcher on Cole] – Fletch went in and came out with the ball,” defender John O’Shea told ManUtd.com after the match.
“The ref’s angle of it and the Chelsea players’ reaction won them the free-kick. And then Wes was clearly fouled by Drogba as the ball came in. The referee’s position was terrible – he was stood right behind one of the Chelsea players and was too far away to see it.
“Lots of decisions seemed to go against us – I crossed the ball towards the end and Lampard clearly stuck his arm up [to block it].
“It was just outside the box, but the linesman was ten yards away and surely had to see it. The little things just didn’t go for us and we’re very disappointed in that sense.”
Despite the result United can take plenty positives from this game. Ferguson’s central defence looked strong against, arguably, the Premier League’s strongest attacking duo. And in midfield Fletcher and Anderson dominated against Lampard and Ballack.
Unfortunately the headlines will once again be dominated by a poor refereeing performance. While Atkinson’s fitness did not prevent the official from making the correct decision, his positioning certainly did.