The game began and what a bright start we made. As I had thought, the absence of Noble and Carroll meant that we would be moving the ball at pace, without too much reliance on long balls to our big striker, and trying to pick up knock downs. Now I am a fan of Carroll, but sometimes believe that when he is in the team we don’t vary our playing patterns sufficiently to pose a threat to the opposition.
Lanzini, Payet, Feghouli, and others were linking well with some incisive one touch passing at speed, and I really felt that this was going to be some game. And then came the moment after about a quarter of an hour which has been the subject of much debate since. Anyone reading this will know what happened, and probably around 99% of everyone I’ve read or heard agrees that the referee, Mike Dean, blundered badly, and in effect ruined the match from that point on. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such a collective gasp in a stadium when he produced the red card.
The team were galvanised and played with great organisation, but it was always going to be a big ask to hold a team of the quality of Manchester United for 75 minutes. Reid and Ogbonna were splendid at the back, the magnificent Obiang had an imperious game in midfield (why do so many people overlook his great qualities and importance to the team?). Lanzini was having an excellent game too, and the rest of the team were playing their part.
We had one let off in the first half when our old friend Post came to the rescue (as he did three times in the Hull game), after Randolph had made a terrific strong arm save to keep the ball out at point blank range. Goal line technology proved just how close it was to crossing the line when I watched the game back on TV after returning home. It would have been a travesty if a goal had been scored, because from my position directly in line, Lingard (I think) seemed well offside when he hit the post, and I couldn’t understand why the linesman hadn’t raised his flag.
The introduction of Rashford and Mata in the second half gave the men from Manchester greater impetus, and as we tired, it was no great surprise when we eventually conceded a goal. Shortly before we fell behind, Lanzini put a great ball through to Antonio, but one on one with De Gea he managed to hit his legs. Mourinho described it as a great save after the game, but I felt it just hit him. Antonio had failed to connect with a header earlier, so we did have chances to score the first goal of the game. Had one of them gone in then it might have been a different story.
Post came to the rescue a second time when a shot slid under Randolph’s grasp, but their second goal killed the game off. From my position at the other end Ibrahimovic looked as if he might have been offside, and this was later confirmed when I saw the replay.
All in all the players can be proud of their performances, something which cannot be said of the match officials. Dean ruined a game of football for 55,000 people with his blunder, and for any watching on TV. There is no excuse for the linesman who blundered badly, too. Quite frankly they were inept throughout the match, and had no feel for what was happening. We always hope for consistency from referees and no two games can be compared exactly, but anyone who saw Ross Barkley’s horror tackle on Jordan Henderson recently, which Dean only thought worthy of a yellow card, can only shake their head in bewilderment in his treatment of Feghouli. Barkley’s potential leg-breaker provoked an explosive melee in the Liverpool v Everton game, whereas in our game, some United players were consoling Feghouli about the unjustness of his sending off.
Of course Jones played his part in the dismissal, arching his back and rolling over and over, but a minute later he was running around without the slightest limp. Some United players ran to the referee when the two players collided, but they always do that, don’t they?
Quite frankly the whole match was ruined by one person who thinks he is part of the entertainment. He is not. Scathing attacks on his performance have come from all quarters after the game. Garth Crooks on BBC, Alan Smith and Niall Quinn on Sky post-match, and other ex-referees such as Poll, Halsey and Webb all agreed it was a ruinous decision for the game. One that I found especially interesting was from Keith Hackett, who famously sent off Tony Gale in the FA Cup semi-final 25 years or so ago. Hackett, in his piece, admitted his major error in sending off Gale, and remarked that Dean should have thought longer over his decision.
My next letter of complaint is to Mike Riley, the referees supremo. I was disgusted by the ruination of my evening entertainment, and I will demand to know what he is going to do about the poor state of officialdom which falls under his control. Too many games are being spoiled by inept officials.
And it is about time that video replays were introduced to try to eradicate some of these gross errors. But that is for another article …