Middlesbrough committed 22 fouls today yet received 3 yellow cards. How does that add up? Good to see that Ferguson’s rant about the incompetency of Keith Hacket’s band of referees has been taken on board. Or not.

Less than a minute played, Aliadiere fouls Evra. With two minutes played United won their second free kick after a Pogatetz foul on Ronaldo. Five minutes played, Ferdinand is fouled by Alves. Seven minutes later Arca is guilty of a crunching foul on Carrick 30 yards out, referee has a word. Fifteen minutes played and Wheater fouls Rooney on the wing. Sixteen minutes played, Boateng fouls Scholes. Twenty minutes gone, and United make their first foul of the game in the opposition’s half, in contrast to the six from Boro. A minute later, Boro fouling again, this time Arca on Scholes. Twenty four minutes played, Gary O’Neil is guilty of a horrible tackle on Evra just outside the box, but Riley waves play on. Evra limps off the pitch which is greeted with jeers and boos. A few minutes later, Rooney is through on goal only for the linesman to lift his flag, despite Wheater playing him a yard onside. Good to know the linesmen are fully aware of the rules which state they should give the benefit to the attacking player.

Half an hour played, Gary O’Neil fouls again. Forty two minutes played, Evra is fouled again, this time it’s Alves. Just before half time Taylor clearly blocks Ronaldo’s shot with his arm which is up in the air in the box. Mike Riley, with a great view, waves play on. This is the same Riley who everyone says gives United penalties for nowt?

Just after half time, Luke Young slides in with his studs on Evra. Horay, first yellow card of the game following eleven Middlesbrough fouls. Fifty four minutes played, O’Neil fouls again, this time it’s Scholes. Fifty six minutes played, Aliadiere guilty of another foul, on Wes Brown. The second yellow card of the game goes to Boateng ten minutes later, for another poor challenge on Evra. Three minutes later, Luke Young fouls Ronaldo. Two minutes later (72 minutes), Boateng fouls again, and again it is Paul Scholes on the receiving end of a late challenge. Seventy seven minutes, Aliadiere again fouls Wes Brown.

Third yellow card comes in the eight fifth minute, as Ronaldo is prepared to charge in to the box. Surely a goalscoring opportunity as O’Neil purposefully takes a swipe for the Portuguese winger. Had he rightly received a yellow for the poor challenge on Evra in the first half, this would have been his marching orders. Three minutes after the booking, O’Neil fouls Hargreaves. Eighty eight minutes, Boateng shoulder charges Ronaldo, with no attempt to go for the ball. Already on a yellow card, Fergie is rightly incensed that Riley just has a word with the player. He hasn’t finished there though, injury time begins and Boateng fouls Park.

Now, I’m sure every team could cite examples where this happens. The point of this article isn’t to wallow at how hard done by United are, rather to question the state of refereeing in this country. Where players are let off foul after foul, facing no consequence. Had Evra’s leg snapped when Gary O’Neil twisted our defender’s leg between his, what is the action that would have been taken? Does the fact that Evra is lucky enough still to be running around suddenly make it acceptable that O’Neil took the man and not the ball?

Ferguson has rightly criticised Keith Hackett this season, publicly on two occasions, for not getting his referees in order. After Taylor’s lazy challenge ended Eduardo’s season, including a trip to Euro 2008, the media frenzy around action and consequence was rife, however that has all seemed to die down now. The fuss is about respecting referees, which is something I agree with. Seeing half a team charge down a referee is not something anyone wants to see. But when a player has been kicked from pillar to post, being offered little protection from the referee in the form of yellow cards, are they obliged to show the referee respect that they themselves aren’t being shown?

Against Portsmouth in the Cup a few weeks ago, Ronaldo was shoulder charged off the ball as he accelerated down the right wing. It was no surprise that Distin felt he was able to do the same thing in the box a few minutes later, and it was no real surprise that the referee didn’t award a penalty for it. It appears as though playing the man with no attempt for the ball is perfectly acceptable against certain players. I am not asking for football to become a non-contact sport, not by any means, but how can it be deemed a fair challenge for a player to charge in to another without even taking a glance at the ball?

Regardless, United have the best squad they’ve ever had, and we should win the league on merit. At 1-0 against Boro, had the referee kept his flag down when Rooney was onside and one on one with the keeper, maybe today’s result would have been different. Had Riley correctly awarded us a penalty for handball at 1-1, again, maybe today’s result would have been different. But United have to plough through regardless. It wasn’t the referee who decided to play John O’Shea in the centre of defence after all.

City weren’t scoring any own goals for us, and Boro certainly weren’t hitting the woodwork three times, which are blessings Chelsea have received over the past fortnight, but United aren’t getting the rub of the green at the moment. That happens, and it doesn’t need to be addressed in detail.

What does need to be addressed is the incompetency of referees, their status as seemingly infallible when questioned, and the treatment of certain players within the Premier League. As the snow poured down on Ronaldo today, as he got kicked and shoved whenever he touched the ball, he has got to question at times why he’s still playing in the league. Why play in a country where referees continue to allow him to be fouled, where players intentionally go to hurt him, and where he is booed whenever he hits the deck. The abuse that was hurled at Ronaldo last season, for example, as he lay on the ground, after Michael Ball planted his studs in his chest, was disgusting. This is not just for Ronaldo though, but any skilful player with quick feet, where the opposition resort to fouling as their only way to stop them. Do we want a league full of heavy footed English players, hoofing the ball up the pitch, whilst the likes of Ronaldo and Torres enjoy the praise and lack of bruises in Spain?

There was a time when great players were cheered. People would pay money to watch their team when George Best was in town and enjoy what he had to offer. There was no jeering him or booing him simply because he was better than their players. There was no talk of him disrespecting the opposition because his fancy feet left their defenders in knots.

Sadly, too many supporters love to see their team kick players like Ronaldo in to the stands, and even more sad, is that too many referees are allowing it to continue on happening. Ferguson has had the bottle to complain about Hacket for not doing his job properly and he received a charge from the FA for doing so. So what exactly does have to happen for the referees in this country to do their job properly?




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