Chelsea and Manchester United robbed of excitement by fourth official
Pity that fourth official Mike Jones stepped between Manchester United’s sulky manager Jose Mourinho and nylon-haired Chelsea boss Antonio Conte? If two grown men want to have a row on the touchline, then let them. Sneaky Mourinho, all sly digs and bitchiness in a well-padded jacket; raging Conte puffing out his chest and testing the buttons on his shrink-to-fit suit. All of us watching at home would have loved it. The fans calling Mourinho “Judas” would have been delighted. The Sun says Jones ‘had to step in to separate the warring managers’. But he didn’t. He just wanted to.
In the age of ‘You can’t say that’, officials are swarming over football. The Sun employs former referee Mark Halsey to tell us if the game’s actual ref got the big decisions right. The biggest of which was referee Michael Oliver sending off United’s Ander Herrera. Halsey says Herrera’s first yellow-card foul on Hazard was merited. It was a ‘clear barge into the body’. The Spaniard’s second yellow for fouling Hazard was ‘not a cautionable offence’.
The Mail’s former referee, Graham Poll, aka ‘The Thing from Tring’, says United set out to commit ‘team fouls’, taking turns to take out Hazard. He points to this being part of the Mourinho game plan, which if true, makes the the new United boss very much Alex Ferguson’s heir.
But the policy of kicking Hazard out of the game backfired when Oliver noticed it, telling United captain Christ Smalling to cut it out or else. Poll was ‘amazed that, within seconds [of speaking to Smalling], Herrerra fouled Hazard again. He could have been cautioned for stupidity.’ Oliver was ‘spot on’.
The upshot is that down to 10 men, United looked even less potent than they did with 11. The game’s best player, N’Golo Kante, scored the winner, and Manchester United were out of the FA Cup, so depriving Mourinho another ‘title’ (the desperate Portuguese loves to bill everything he wins as a ‘title’, including, laughably, the Community Shield charity match) and setting Chelsea on course for a semi-final with Spurs at Wembley.
It promises to be a thrilling encounter – and a great chance for celebrity officials to raise their profiles.