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United at Old Trafford: Lucky, Good, or Something Else?

Full disclosure: I’m a Spurs fan.  Have been for round about six years, which just so happens to be just before the last time Mark Clattenburg took charge of a Manchester United v Spurs fixture at Old Trafford.  For any who needed their memory jogged (or who weren’t fans at the time):

Look, Tottenham didn’t deserve to win on Saturday.  They were undone by the same problems that have plagued the entire season to date.  Falling behind early, a few naive moments in defense, poor set piece defending.  While they generally pass the ball well through the midfield, striker play has been awful, for the most part.

That said, Spurs shouldn’t be forced to beat the referee as well.  Old Trafford is tough enough to begin with.  Some might remember Spurs going into halftime with a 2-0 lead at this fixture two seasons ago, before Howard Webb called an incorrect penalty on Gomes, after which point the floodgates opened and United won 5-2.  Getting back to Clattenburg, I also remember him taking charge of a Spurs-United match at White Hart Lane two or three years ago, and it sticks in my mind because Paul Scholes got away with three bad and cynical fouls without being shown any card at all.

Needless to say, when I saw who the referee was for this match, I went in expecting an uphill battle.  Nani’s goal has been discussed ad nauseum on here, on pundit shows, and everywhere else so I’ll be brief when I get to it.  I’m more concerned about the other incidents in what was a very clean match with few other talking points at all.  But close examination does provide some enlightening details, in my opinion.  Here’s a short rundown – by minute – of all the other incidents in the match (I’ve tried to put away my lilywhite colored specs to do this, please cut me a little slack!):

1’st minute – Nani goes up for a 50/50 ball with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, clean play but Nani decides to roll around on the pitch for a few seconds and make an appeal to Clattenburg.  A pretty tame moment, but bares mentioning for all that happened later…

2′ – …including because of what happens in the next minute.  Nani, now popping up on the opposite side, attacks Alan Hutton.  There might’ve been minor (incidental) contact with Hutton, but not even close to being a foul.  Nani then loses control of the ball as it goes out for a goal kick, takes 3 more steps and dives with no one around him.  He then puts out his arms to appeal for God-knows-what.   At this point Clattenburg should’ve at least given Nani a telling-off to stop all the complaining and play-acting (a yellow card for this sort of crap should be the way forward IMO), yet does nothing.

17′ – William Gallas receives the first yellow of the match for a foul on Javier Hernandez.  The foul occurs near midfield, was not malicious but a fraction late, and was Gallas’ first foul of the match.  Extremely harsh on Gallas, and of course now he has to be careful for the rest of the match.

21′ – The linesman makes a mistake in Spurs’ favor, as the ball goes over the touch line before Bale crosses to win a corner.  Although the cynical side of me thinks that the only refereeing  mistakes likely to go in Spurs’ favor in a match like this are the objective ones (was the ball out of play, who was last to touch it, etc), rather than the subjective ones.

30′ – Younes Kaboul makes a silly rash challenge on Hernandez which earns United a dangerous free kick and himself a yellow card.  Which then led to Vidic’s goal.  No complaints here, Kaboul’s defending in this instance was poor.

40′ – Park Ji-Sung fouls Aaron Lennon in Spurs’ half of the pitch; a slide tackle from behind while Lennon was away on a counter.  Considering Lennon’s pace, the space in front of him, and the lack of United defenders back, it’s obvious Park knew what he was doing.  Clattenburg doesn’t think this warrants a yellow however.

45′ – Michael Carrick fouls Assou-Ekotto from behind while he’s attacking in United’s half.  Not a dangerous foul though, and didn’t deserve a card in my opinion.  However, after Clattenburg whistles for the foul, Rio Ferdinand kicks the ball 50 yards up the field in frustration.  I was under the impression this constitutes an automatic yellow, just like taking your shirt off after a goal.  Guess not.

84′ – The Nani “goal”.  For video, analysis, and discussion of the incident here’s the Gaffer’s post on the subject.  I found an article in the Wall Street Journal of all places which pretty much sums up my viewpoint on the incident.

What I do feel the need to mention is why on earth Rio Ferdinand was allowed to take part in the discussion between Clattenburg and the linesman (Simon Beck) after Beck raised his flag when the goal was scored.  And yes,  I realize that it isn’t that dissimilar to the protests Tom Huddlestone made to the referee after his goal was originally disallowed two weeks ago at Fulham.  But surely players shouldn’t be allowed to take part in decisions which are supposed to be made by the officials alone.  It hurts the ability of the referees to do their job, and the integrity of the game, so that people like me can watch on TV and make an argument that something sinister is going on.  Since there’s no culpability of the officials after the fact, one never truly knows how a decision is reached.

Finally, after the goal was given, and all the Spurs players protested for the better part of a minute, Luka Modric was given a yellow card after Clattenburg had had enough.  I thought that as captain, Modric was entitled to an explanation of his decision to award the goal (especially as Ferdinand – the opposite captain – was allowed to confer before it was given) ?

All in all, an appalling display by the referee.  3 yellow cards to Spurs, 1 of which was deserved (Kaboul) ; none to United, who deserved 3 (Park, Ferdinand, and Nani for persistent play acting).

This is all an account of what my eyes have seen in one match, and isn’t meant to project what happens in all matches of this sort.  But for marquee matches between two top teams, there’s only a pool of four or five generally recognized “elite referees” which do most of the big matches (of which Clattenburg and Webb are two), and at least with recent United-Spurs matches, they consistently get big decisions wrong, and in favor of the so-called “bigger club”.

So what do you think?  Am I just a whining Spurs fan?  Is there a shred of truth there?  Are there other good examples in recent history of major decisions going in favor of the Uniteds and the Chelsea’s when they shouldn’t have?  Are there major changes needed in the way matches are officiated, and the officials assigned to them?  Please share in the comments.

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  1. Atomis

    November 2, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    You are so right mr why………utd fans keep talking about the Drog offside goal and yet they never ever mention their goal by macheda, thats utd fans for you. Lets be honest here… many times for the last 4 seasons have utd been favoured? Especially at OT? Your manager is a bully, your team and fans keep screaming how big and great you are everyday, are you guys low on confidence? decent ref would have punished that twat nani many times this season alone for cheating and diving and yet nothing has happened. Im just extremely happy other teams, mangers, players and their fans now can see why you guys are so hated and how much you get away with…..

  2. Chris C

    November 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    In the video you posted, the commentators didn’t know it was a goal until they saw it in a slow motion replay. After the replay they suddenly acted like they could tell how far over the line it was the entire time which isn’t the case at all if you watch it again. The linesman was farther up field since he had no reason to be on the goal line. Does it suck for Tottenham? Of course. Does it show why goal line technology or replays should be allowed in football. Absolutely. Is it part of a larger conspiracy to keep Tottenham down? No. I hate United as much as the next guy but it’s just an unfortunate missed call on a play that happened so quickly.

  3. Premierleaguered

    November 2, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Hey ,in the 5-2 loss to United 2 seasons ago your team should have been down to ten man in 6 min ,look at this clip

    your shit player palacios challenges Ronaldo in a dirty way moron.

    There is also a point that we scored FOUR MORE GOALS n we deserved to win that match.
    gud luck tottingam

  4. MonsterMasch

    November 1, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I do think that Old Trafford does intimidate referees into swallowing their whistles. This instance, however, is an example of a terrible referee taking the game into his own hands not of United getting lucky.

  5. the devil himself

    November 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    84′ . .nani runs into the box,gets pulled with both hands by kaboul, struggles to stay on his feet and eventually falls,ref waves play on. .kaboul stays on field

  6. farlieonfootie

    November 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    There are plenty of examples of calls going against United, as well, most notably a call by the same linesman as involved against Spurs who neglected to see Didier Drogba’s clear offside position when he scored the winning goal last April at Old Trafford. The point being it’s always painful to see your team lose, and when they do so it’s often easier to blame the ref than the players. Spurs did not play up to their potential on Saturday (with the exception of VdV and Modric and they lost. End of conversation. We can talk about refereeing decisions until we’re blue in the face, but none of the examples mentioned above would have changed the ultimate outcome. And for those that think these calls are a one way street in favor of United and Chelsea, I remind you to re-watch Spurs victory in August over Stoke, where the ref missed a clear Stoke goal — I don’t recall any Spurs fans protesting the 3 points on that day, or offering to share them with Stoke….. It’s a long season, in which calls go for and against teams all the time. Move ahead, and get on with the rest of the season — there’s a long way to go, and this United fan in particular would welcome seeing Spurs find a way to stay in the Champions League. They’ve been a breath of fresh air at the top, and are great fun to watch!

    • us spur

      November 1, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      As a Spurs fan (could you guess?), I agree with everything you said in this post!

      Is that a pig flying over New York?

    • Why?

      November 1, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      This is the umpteenth time this offside was brought up against Drogba by Utd fans and quite frankly I’m getting sick of hearing this nonsense, Yes if was off side but in the same game Macheda clearly handles the ball into the Chelsea goal so clearly you could have been in the opposite end and still seen it. Why don’t the Utd fans bringing up the offside ever mention this? There were TWO wrong decisions in this game which if both were spotted Chelsea still won. They evened themselves out in one game it’s seems that if Utd have something like this happen it’s a lot worse than when it happens to most other teams outside the top few 7-8 times a season. Get over it!! The decision to allow the handled goal was as bad if not worse.

  7. Madschester United

    November 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Seems like this article was written by a supporter of Tottenham to make himself feel better by whining through a very long rant. If you actually want to accomplish what you set forth in your post: Investigating if United are lucky, good, or helped by the ref at Old Trafford, may I suggest that you look at more than 3 games (all involving Tottenham).

    Spurs played poorly this past weekend and deserved to lose. They scarcely tested the Utd keeper and had to resort to overly physical tactics to keep United’s strikers quiet.

    You should be angry with your players who had many lapses in concentration and with the manager for playing for the draw with the conservative tactics.

    Surely ref’s need help from technology, but Nani’s goal is merely academic as it did not and would not impact the final score and it’s discussion distracts from much more interesting topic from this game, namely:
    1. How Rafael managed to keep Bale in his pocket all game (until subbed)
    2. How Tottenham’s high-powered offense was kept quiet by a resolute United defense led by an outstanding captain in Vidic.

  8. Up the Chels!

    November 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    Just a point for clarification, Ferdinand isn’t captain of United anymore, Vidic is, just reinforces your point though.

  9. MNUfan1991

    November 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    C’mon Spurs, pick yourself up and fight on!
    We need you to take points off the rentboys and gomgoms 🙂

  10. Dave

    November 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    As a Gooner I too was angered by the game. We clearly needed you Spuds to take a point or three and get Man U out of our space but you didn’t. Eh well lots of football yet to be played.

    BTW- are Spurs going to sell the DVD of this game too?

  11. jose

    November 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    all three.

  12. MennoDaddy

    November 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Spot on, sir. Well done.

  13. matt

    November 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    as a spurs fan, im sure this year is bigger for you and all, with reaching the 4th spot in years, which means you were qualified for CL but this game, whether that 1 goal might have changed the game or not – the bottom line is overall, van der vart, bale, and couple more who i actually thought would do much better didn’t…they all did not perform to their level because i’ve seen a lot of man utd spurs games and i know how lennon can change a game with a swift of his foot. but yeah, they did not perform well comparing to us (oh yeah, i am a man utd fan, surprised?) so i think man utd deserved to win more that night, especially still being 1 up at 84 mins…

    honestly, also as a fan of premier league, i am dissapointed at spurs for this start of the season, especially with how they played last year, but it’s not over and we’ll see.

  14. Fernando

    November 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Mark Clattenburg is an awful ref just like a lot of the officials in the Premier League. The home team gets the advantage, is it fair? Depends on who you’re playing really.

    Every ref, swallows his whistle at Old Trafford but that only deflects from Spurs poor play. Spurs have to realize that the reaction to a game like this is all that matters.

    Spurs craved European football, games that mattered etc.
    Now they’ve got it and it’s up to Harry to stop whinging and get on with it.

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