Clattenburg denies Chelsea's comeback

Posted by Phil Lythell

Fernando Torres gets his marching orders for simulation against Manchester UnitedGettyImagesFernando Torres gets his marching orders for simulation against Man United

While all the focus might have been on the signing of Robin van Persie at Old Trafford during the summer, there was one piece of transfer business that slipped quietly under the radar as once again Sir Alex Ferguson exhibited all his wiles by shipping out Howard Webb and bringing in Mark Clattenburg as a brilliant replacement.

After a pulsating game of football, it is never palatable to decry the men given the often thankless task of applying the rules, but in the immediate aftermath of Manchester United's 3-2 win over Chelsea, there is no other option. Inept would be the most polite way of describing the match officials' performance on Sunday. Shambolic would be another. There can be no complaints about the sending off of Branislav Ivanovic, but from then on, referee Clattenburg and his pals seemed incapable of making the correct call. Down to 10 men, the odds might have been stacked against Chelsea, but the challenge was far from impossible. The two ridiculous yellow cards shown to Fernando Torres made sure that it was.

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Booking a player for going for a bouncing ball when he has the same chance of winning it as his opponent should never happen. If his tackle was dangerous, what about that of the other player? If Torres' challenge was deemed dangerous, why does the same not apply to the opponent who did exactly the same thing but arrived on the scene a millisecond earlier? The second yellow was even more farcical. If you are going to sanction a player for diving, you have to be 100 percent certain. But given the referee's position and the fact that Jonny Evans clearly made contact with the Spaniard, that was clearly not the case. His decision appears tantamount to guesswork. Not acceptable in a game of such magnitude.

Referees are often exhorted to use common sense and to give themselves a bit of latitude so as not to paint themselves into a corner. Clattenburg failed to apply that logic to Torres' "indiscretions" but was happy to give Wayne Rooney the benefit of the doubt when he cynically brought down Eden Hazard in the middle of the park. If there was any question as to whether Rooney should have been sent for an early bath, it was dispelled when Ferguson hauled him off immediately following the challenge to prevent his team from being reduced to 10 men. If Ferguson thinks his player should have been dismissed, I think we can all agree that he should have gone.

To cap things off, the winner was the result of yet another catastrophe from the men in black. Chelsea were weathering the storm admirably, but there is nothing you can do when a player is allowed to stand offside and then slot the ball home, as Javier Hernandez did. It was the cherry on United's cake and surely confirmed that Clattenburg and his cronies will be taking charge of a Sunday League fixture next weekend.

Attempting to put the officiating to one side for a moment, Chelsea gave themselves a mountain to climb by giving the ball away in situations where the defensive cover was lacking. United were ruthless in exposing that in the early stages and the Blues put themselves on the back foot. The response, however, was excellent. The visitors' goal was laid siege to in the 10 minutes leading up to halftime, and it was a miracle that only one goal was scored by the hosts in that period. David De Gea was worked far more than Petr Cech, pulling off a gravity-defying save from Torres and thwarting Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata with world-class stops.

Prior to the intervention of the referee, the momentum was all with Chelsea and it looked like there would only be one winner. Once Roberto Di Matteo had figured out how to negate United's threat down the flanks, possession and chances were dominated by his team. It might have come a little too late, but his input was heeded by his team and executed excellently.

It might have been a first defeat in the league this season, but the reaction of the crowd at the final whistle illustrated that they were still proud of their side. It would be nice if the opposition were not given a head start in the future, but a continuation of the same character and spirit will stand the team in good stead for the rest of the marathon.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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