Manchester United Soapbox: penalty box fantasies, praise for Sir Alex

On one level it doesn’t matter, indeed it is entirely correct, that no rules were changed to enable Sunderland to win a penalty for handling the ball. But if another level exists, you can trust Pete Sixsmith to find it before lauding a giant of football …


Let’s imagine
the conversation between the referee Lee Mason and his assistant Jake Collin round about 4.30 on Saturday.

Collin has put his flag across his chest to indicate a penalty for Sunderland.

“What is it Jake?”

There was a handball, Lee. Looked like a penalty to me.”

“Are you sure? I thought the Sunderland player touched it. You have to be absolutely sure, Jake.”

“No, not absolutely sure, Lee.”

“Ok, free kick to the Reds. Play on lads”.

Now, let’s imagine it was at the other end, the end where Manchester United were attacking, the once fearsome Stretford End, now a sanitised singing and banners area as far removed from United’s roots as a club for the people of Manchester as it could be.

Assistant Mick McDonough has put his flag across his chest to indicate a penalty to Manchester United.

“What is it Mick?”

“There was a handball, Lee. Looked like a penalty to me.”

“Are you sure? I thought the United player touched it. You have to be absolutely sure, Mick.”

No, not absolutely sure, Lee.”

“Oh s***. Look I’m going to give it. Fergie will go ballistic if I don’t and if the crowd ever wake up, they might do as well. Anyway, it’s his 25th anniversary, so he deserves it – and who cares about Sunderland? Penalty to United and if you don’t stop complaining Mr Cattermole, you can get yourself off.”

As it happened, Lee Mason got it right; it wasn’t a penalty. It was his decision and he made it. The assistant cannot give a penalty but he can suggest to the referee that there was an infringement that merited the award of a penalty kick. Collin did this, Mason said he didn’t think so and that was that.

Mason had a good game, although I reckon I could have refereed a game so lacking in real drive and passion. But there will always be that suspicion that we were been treated as United would have been in the opposition penalty area.

I know I am a bitter, twisted and cynical old goat and I also know that United were the better side and deserved to win. But it sticks in the craw when deep, deep down we know that a similar decision at the other end would most definitely not have gone in our favour.

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The performance was decent. We kept our shape. The goalkeeper did well. The two central defenders were impressive. Kieran Richardson had an excellent game.

The goal came just before half time when we failed to concentrate at a corner taken by Nani. Welbeck jumped ahead of Brown and the ball missed him, scraped Brown’s head and went in.

Frustrating, disappointing and annoying are the words to describe how I felt at half time. We had had the best chance to score when Bendtner forced a good save out of Lindegaard and had looked neat and tidy in midfield, with Cattermole showing the kind of restraint that a slimmer in a chocolate shop would envy.

Losing Wickham so early meant that we had no rhythm to lose up front. Ji took a while to settle, but came into the game as it progressed. Sometimes he is too ambitious and he tries too hard, but he holds the ball up well and could be a genuine asset in the future.

But – and it is a big, worrying, but – there was little or no penetration from midfield. The ball went square and backwards far more quickly than it went forwards. Cattermole, Colback and Meyler have scored a big fat zero of goals for us. Good teams get goals from the centre of midfield – which is why United dropped Rooney back there to complement Hernandez and Welbeck and why we bought Craig Gardner.

Maybe we should have pushed him on instead of Meyler. It might have worked, although I suspect not. Meyler did play the one really good ball through to Larsson and Bendtner was inches away from turning it in in the 89th. minute.

There are some positives to take. Westwood had an excellent game in goal. The save in the second half was of Montyesque proportions, but I was more impressed with his handling and sound judgement. He looked like a man determined to carve out a career as a Premier League and international keeper.

However, wins for Wolves and Bolton put us under pressure in the nether regions of the league and it makes it essential that we win the next three home games and pick something up at Wolves. We are not a bad side and nobody has hammered us. We have competed well against Liverpool, United, Chelsea and Arsenal without ever looking like winning.

The key results and performances come against the sides around us and below us. The management team have to get the balance right in these games. Hopefully Wickham’s injury will not be serious – he appeared reasonably comfortable as he was carried off – and he can resume his promising partnership with Bendtner tout suite.

Finally, a word of congratulations for Sir Alex Ferguson (I bet he’s been waiting for it). His 25 years at one club is remarkable. When he took over at Old Trafford, we had Laurie McMenemy in charge and since then have suffered the likes of Howard Wilkinson, Mick Buxton and Terry Butcher while enjoying Dennis Smith, Peter Reid and bits of Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane.
Manchester - Old Trafford - Manchester United vs Crawley TownImage: Andrea Sartorati

He’s a wily old rogue and he has created a succession of fine teams. We have sat back and grudgingly admired the likes of Ronaldo, Beckham, Giggs, Rooney, Schmeichel, Bruce, Pallister and Cantona, while he was even charitable enough to throw a large amount of money at us for the hopeless David Bellion.

Maybe we can beat him at least once more before he retires and I shuffle off this mortal coil – although I am not banking on it.

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6 thoughts on “Manchester United Soapbox: penalty box fantasies, praise for Sir Alex”

  1. I would imagine Mike Reilly (the man in charge of referees) will remind Lee Mason NOT to make a decision until he has spoken to his assistant.
    Mason pointed to the spot and we were deciding who was going to take it when he went over to Jake Collin. Collin had detected a handball and should have attracted the referees attention by either waving his flag or (if wired up) speaking to him.
    Both officials made errors in communication rather than in their interpretation of the laws of the game.
    But, to err is human I suppose.

  2. At the start of the season I too was anxious to see Gardner starting– he had a fantastic goal-scoring record at Brum, and I thought he’d be a great contributer. For me he’s done fine when he’s played; he’s got an excellent work rate and nabbed one goal already.

    There has been some suggestion, however, amongst the wider SAFC supporter community that perhaps Gardner’s performance last season was a fluke. Which is why he’s now fallen behind Colback, Vaughan and Catts in terms of preference.

    I’m willing to bet (and this is just from what I’ve observed) that when both parties are fit, Colback and Vaughan will be our first choice.

    Re: the penalty that wasn’t– yes the correct decision was eventually reached, but it was a huge kick in the teeth for those of us at Old Trafford. We were awarded a penalty (elation!) then suddenly it was a free kick against us (‘you’re not fit to referee!’). It was handled oddly, IMHO.

    I did think Mason was, as Jeremy says, rather fussy. But then again, at Old Trafford on Fergie’s anniversary, we were unlikely to receive decisions wholly beneficial to us.

    I have some sympathy for referees because it is a hard job and I’d certainly never be brave enough to do it. But that incident put a damper on the crowd and the players during a crucial time.

  3. I posted almost word for word the same comments as those in the original post elsewhere before reading the article. I think we all know that had the incident occurred at the other end of the field that the outcome would have been very different. The fact that Mason (one of the over fussiest refs of his time) got the decision correct is irrelevant here, as it is the process which is being scrutinised here.

    • You did indeed, Jeremy. And you are right to say the rights and wrongs of the penalty call are irrelevant. My introduction to Pete’s piece was intended to deflate any hot air from non-SAFC onlookers to the effect that we’re so sad we whinge about decisions we know were correct. To such detractors, the nuances of the process, which you and Pete fairly analyse, would be missed.

  4. I share your desire to see Gardner playing more regularly. Colback did scrore a few goals for Ipswich and I feel there’s more to come from him, but who do we drop for Gardner? We’ve got a good run of games coming right up, and I’m expecting points from them. With Wickham out, Brucey might go with Sess and Bendtner up front v Wigan, maybe a 4-4-1-1? Is Larsson suspended? If so, thats bad news. Elmo will no doubt come on, and whilst I appreciate his energy, his final ball needs work. We slaughtered Wigan last year. My advice for the lads is to attack this game with the same mentality as if you were facing a Liverpool or Man Utd at home: high energy closing down , good keeping of the ball and confident attacking.

  5. Good effort but once again we come away empty handed.So on the the next games that we must surely start to get some wins.Next 2 home games against Fulaham and Wigan require 6 points please.

    Ferguson is undoubtedly the best British football manager ever and I do have a soft spot for his teams which have given us some of the best Euro action over the last 2 decades.Who could forget that 2-1 last 2 minute comeback agaisnt the cocky Germans in the 1999 Champions League final.It gave rise to my favourite quote of Fergys’.When asked what he thought on the final whistle he just says…..

    “Football…bloody hell!”…..absolutely brilliant.He has also seen fit to recently loan us two brilliant youngsters in Evans and Wellbeck thanks to the old Manu mafia network.

    For me Fergy has been the simply best PL manager around by far.

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