The old cliché suggests that over the course of a season, refereeing decisions ‘even themselves out’ and justice is done. Well, that theory is spectacularly incorrect, as I’m sure all Latics fans will confirm.
I’m sure you can probably see where I’m going with this. This isn’t a case of me getting sour grapes because we lost on Saturday, or me crying about a defeat by blaming a referee. I fully expected us to lose at Old Trafford, it’s an annual Latics ritual, but it would be nice to be given a fair chance of winning by the referee. It’s the principal that annoys me.
In our last three visits to Manchester United, we’ve had three red cards (the last of which for Conor Sammon was an outrage, the other two were debatable) and Saturday carried on in a familiar manner, with Danny Welbeck diving for a penalty which was incorrectly given.
Of course, you might ask what on earth Ali was doing sprinting out of his goal like a six year old who’s had one too many blue smarties, but if you don’t touch a player and he jumps over an outstretched arm like he’s been hit by a sniper, I think you have ground to feel aggrieved. In the end, I suppose you can say it didn’t really matter as Ali didn’t get sent off and saved the resulting penalty. But I won’t let that get in the way of a good rant, do you think a penalty would have been given if Franco Di Santo had gone over David De Gea in front of a half empty South Stand?
Referees continuously seem to be overawed and intimidated by the Old Trafford crowd, which is startling considering the atmosphere. That’s like becoming a Christian because you were intimidated by the choir and the vicar at your local church. It might have something to do with the fact they’re the biggest club in the country, or it may have something to do with Sir Alex Ferguson and how he’s got the whole of English football wrapped around his finger. What a sinister fellow he is, could any other manager in world football have the equivalent of Fergie time?
Nobody can really deny that the presence of the crowd, Ferguson, or whatever it is, have an effect on whoever the referee on the day may be. For instance, Man United went from December 1993 to April 2004 without conceding a goal from a penalty at Old Trafford until Danny Murphy scored in a 1-0 Liverpool win. A misleading statistic? Think again. Only three penalties were awarded against Man United in that time and subsequently missed.
There is no way that can be coincidence. I realise that United are likely to get more penalties than the opposition because generally, they attack more than most of their home opponents, especially during the glory days of the 90s. Yet we’ve managed to concede three penalties in our first four games of this season, for United to only concede four in over ten years either means our defenders are apocalyptically clumsy, or United do in fact get lucky from time to time. Which seems more likely?
It’s not just United either, I can remember us being on the end of ridiculous decisions against other ‘big’ clubs since our Premier League arrival in 2005 too.
Think back to April when we went to Stamford Bridge and should have won, only to be denied by two obvious offside goals by Chelsea. In October 2008 at Anfield, we were ten minutes away from a historic win (Amr Zaki’s overhead kick and all that), before Antonio Valencia was sent off for two offences softer than silk and title chasing Liverpool ended up winning 3-2.
Need I remind of the Emirates back in 2007? And even at home, Phil Dowd did his best to stop us beating Man United last season by disallowing Victor Moses’ header for an invisible foul. And don’t get me started on Wayne Rooney’s assault on James McCarthy which went not only without a red card, but without a foul being given! It seems that the intimidation created by ES2 isn’t quite the same as the Stretford End.
I’m sure there are countless other examples of smaller clubs getting robbed by referees against big clubs. The only times I can remember the boot being on the other foot was when we were awarded a dubious (but regardless, still incorrect) corner in the aforementioned Man United win from which we scored the winner. And Emile Heskey scoring an offside goal against Chelsea in 2006 when Khalid Bhoularouz, who was adjudged to have played him onside, was in fact off the pitch altogether. Regardless, we still lost the game 3-2, so does it really matter?
I just hope that one day, the Premier League can be fair in terms of referees. I understand they’ll always make mistakes, but I dream of a day when refs refuse to bottle it at places like Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge, and give the little clubs like Wigan, Norwich and Swansea the decisions they deserve. Rather than being overruled and over affected by big crowds and big clubs.
Having typed all that, I have to say the only people to blame for Saturday’s defeat were the players themselves.
It was a definite off day for Wigan. The omens weren’t good, with seven defeats from a possible seven in previous visits to Old Trafford, the chances of number eight being added to the list were quite high, even without Rooney and Van Persie starting for United.
Even the usually so dependable Ali Al-Habsi was at fault, making a rash decision to give away the penalty and making clumsy errors for two of the goals. He still had time to save a penalty on his off day though.
It was the third goal that summed up a weak display. United’s debutant left back Alexander Buttner was allowed to dribble past four defenders who offered on powder puff tackles and stab a weak effort past Ali at his near post. Wigan had more chances to tackle him than they had defenders on the pitch, but still somehow failed in a masterful display for youngsters on how not to defend.
I don’t want to overreact because the next logical step from losing at Old Trafford isn’t immediate relegation, but Wigan will have to improve to beat a Berbatov-inspired Fulham next week, and stop giving away penalties. Even Ali can’t save the lot.