Former top-flight official takes swipe at supporters and insists that the 27-year-old would have been labelled a Manchester City fan by some had he awarded Fulham a spot-kick
By Rob Stewart
Former Premier League referee Jeff Winter has jumped to the defence of Michael Oliver insisting the official was right not to award Fulham a penalty against Manchester United and was not guilty of "bottling it" at Old Trafford.
Winter also hit out at "ignorant" fans as he spoke out in defence of Oliver, who was criticised for not awarding Fulham a penalty in the closing stages when Michael Carrick tripped Danny Murphy.
United edged the match 1-0 ,thanks to a Wayne Rooney goal that opened up a three-point lead at the summit of the Premier League.
"It is brilliant when the action is in slow motion and freeze-framed, but in this instance Michael Oliver has not bottled it," Winter told Goal.com.
"He has just made an honest decision and now, at the end of it all, the very strong likelihood is that his honest decision was the wrong decision.
"If Michael Oliver had given a penalty he would have been guessing. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and Michael Oliver got that one wrong but if any other referee had been out there the likelihood is that he would have made the same decision based on what they had seen in front of them.
"For people to start accusing him of bottling it just says a lot about the ignorance of some. Football fans have got the passion that makes the game great but when they start looking for conspiracy theories it just shows their ignorance rather than anything else."
While many pundits took aim at Oliver following his decision to turn down Fulham’s penalty appeals, Winter believes that former United defender Gary Neville was spot on in his summary while acting as a pundit for Sky Sports.
"I know people will say he is biased but one of the most sensible summing-ups came from Gary Neville when the TV replays slowed things down from the referee’s angle," added Winter.
"He was in a good position but it was lightning-fast, the foot came in and to all intents and purposes what the referee would probably go on was the direction of the ball.
"With the ball being pushed out to one side that would normally lead you down the path that Carrick had got a touch on the ball, first of all, that had changed the ball’s course of direction.
"In reality, what happened was that as Carrick made contact with his foot, the ball came off Murphy.”
Teesside-based Winter, whose last game as a top-flight referee was the 2004 FA Cup final that saw United beat Millwall at the Millennium Stadium, believes that the abuse Oliver has received is an occupational hazard.
"I am the best referee in the world now I am sat in front of Sky Sports when I can watch incidents over and over again from every angle," Winter continued.
"The Sky Sports coverage has been tremendous but it makes fans think that any referee worth his salt can see whether the ball was over the line or whether there was a penalty.
"Last night’s incident highlighted that you can do nothing wrong for 99.9 per cent of the game, then get one decision and you are castigated for it."
He is confident that 27-year-old Oliver, who became the youngest ever Premier League referee two years ago, will take the controversy in his stride.
"I have watched his career unfold through non-league football and I always thought he would go all the way because he is calm and cool and just gets on with the job and always seems unfazed," Winter said.
"The thing is in Premier League football there is no hiding place and sooner or later you are going to get a controversial incident.
"Last night I do not think anyone knew who the referee was for almost 90 minutes because he just did what he had to do and there was no controversy. He did superbly, and that is the problem of being a referee – one decision and all of a sudden you are the centre of attention.
"Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there that have never been on a football pitch that jump to conspiracy theories no matter what happens. If he had given a penalty someone would have been saying he was a Manchester City fan. You are in a no-win situation."