Mata & Van Persie overshadowed by impetuous Clattenburg

A thrilling Premier League encounter between Chelsea and Manchester United should have been remembered for a footballing feast rather than controversial refereeing
By Wayne Veysey at Stamford Bridge

The verdict of the Chelsea faithful was unanimous and instant.

"Cheat, cheat, cheat," filled the chilly Stamford Bridge air after Mark Clattenburg blew his whistle to end a tempestuous encounter and signal the start of an inquest that will focus on the frailties of officialdom rather than the calibre of the football.

Security personnel shielded the referee and his assistants Michael McDonough and Simon Long as they were escorted off the pitch and down the tunnel while the home supporters aimed vitriol in their direction for what they saw as the incompetence that denied Chelsea at least a share of the points.

At 2-2 with an hour gone, the game was on a knife-edge. Two teams with real pretensions to lifting the Premier League title in May had no interest in a single point. They were aiming for all three. We were all preparing ourselves for a thrilling finale.

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Just as Chelsea were beginning to flex their muscles after hauling back an early two-goal deficit, Branislav Ivanovic swung the momentum in United's favour with his cynical kick on Ashley Young after 63 minutes.

Young, as is his wont, made the most of the challenge but replays showed that Clattenburg's judgement was spot-on. The right-back was the last defender and he had committed a professional foul. There could be no dispute about the validity of the Ivanovic dismissal.

Five minutes later, Clattenburg ensured that he will probably be slotted in for a League Two match next weekend rather than a high-profile top-tier encounter.

The protests from the Chelsea players and a frenzied home support were long and loud after Clattenburg decided that Fernando Torres tried to deceive him when he turned past Jonny Evans after 68 minutes.

TV evidence showed that there had been clear contact between Evans' studs and Torres' leg. By handing the Spaniard a second yellow for simulation, the referee showed that he employed a worrying amount of guesswork in coming to what was almost universally agreed to be an outrageous decision.

One of the few in agreement with the under-fire Clattenburg was Sir Alex Ferguson. "It was his own fault," declared the Scot of Torres. "Jonny may have just caught him a little bit but you can either carry on running, which he could've done... but he chose to go down. He could have carried on and scored. That's what I can't understand."

Chelsea's sense of injustice was exacerbated in the 75th minute when the United substitute Chicharito turned in the winner from Rafael's misdirected shot. The Mexican had been in a clear offside position when the full-back struck the ball.

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A further twist was added to the Torres dismissal afterwards following further scrutiny of the striker's chest-high challenge on Tom Cleverley in first-half injury time.

There was some credence to the suggestion of TV analyst Gary Neville that Torres was lucky to be on the pitch at the start of the second half given the crudeness of his tackle.

Most would agree that of the four major decisions made by Clattenburg and his assistants, they had got three horribly wrong – the Torres first yellow, the Torres second booking and the Hernandez offside.

Little wonder that Roberto Di Matteo blamed the officials for his team's first league defeat of the season and the narrowing of their lead to a single point. "It's a shame like this is decided like that," he said with a degree of understatement. Quite.

Instead of talking about United's breathtaking counterattacks, the set-piece excellence of Juan Mata or the resilience of two fine teams, we are left to examine the inability of match officials to get big decisions correct often enough.

Only a few hours earlier, Luis Suarez was denied what would have been a brilliant hat-trick in the Merseyside derby when his last-minute winner was chalked out by a linesman blunder.

Of course, the players do not help themselves. If cheating and diving were not so rife in the game, there would be less need for the referee to scrutinise key events with such a cynical eye.

Throw in the sustained pace and intensity at which the modern game is played and it is little wonder that mistakes are made.

Moreover, Young and Suarez are two forwards who have track records of cheating to win decisions from officials.

The answer surely lies in more widespread use of technology. While other sports make sensible use of the TV evidence available to officials, football remains in the dark ages, like a dinosaur with its head permanently stuck in the sand.

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