Fergie facing touchline ban for referee outburst with Anfield on horizon
Alex Ferguson is facing the prospect of a two-match touchline ban over his criticism of referee Martin Atkinson, though the FA is still waiting for the release of video footage from MUTV to help settle the case.
The FA had not received footage of Ferguson's comments about Atkinson from Manchester United's in-house TV station last night and though it expects the club to cooperate today, it will access his comments by other means if necessary.
The FA cannot force United to deliver evidence against their manager. It must rule by 6.0 today whether Ferguson's criticism of Atkinson -- more scathing on MUTV than on Sky Sports -- after Tuesday's 2-1 defeat at Chelsea constitutes misconduct.
It is understood that Ferguson has been told to prepare for a new FA charge which, if proved, would activate the two-game ban hanging over him since his scathing comments about Alan Wiley's fitness last season. If he is charged and pleads guilty he will be in the stands at Anfield for the game against Liverpool on Sunday.
If he denies an offence -- the more likely outcome -- it will be put to an independent regulatory commission, which would rule by Tuesday, though Ferguson could appeal that decision, further delaying the disciplinary process.
Ferguson was warned when hit with a two-game ban and a £20,000 fine in November 2009 over the Wiley comments that any further offences before the end of the current campaign would see him sent to the stands for a further two games.
The ban could be extended when the latest incident is appended, though the criticism Ferguson directed against Atkinson may not be substantial enough for that.
Comments made to the media after a game generally bring a fine, rather than a ban, and the Wiley case was exceptional.
Ferguson suggested Wiley had lacked the fitness to manage United's home game with Sunderland on October 3. He later apologised, claiming he had been attempting to raise standards of fitness among referees.
Ferguson seems more likely to miss the league games at home to Bolton, on March 19, and at West Ham on April 2.
Though Atkinson should have sent off Chelsea's David Luiz for a challenge on Wayne Rooney which was his second bookable offence, the United manager might have reflected on the changing fortunes of a game that should have left him playing with just 10 men at Wigan three days earlier.
Instead, Ferguson impugned the honesty of the 39-year-old Yorkshire official, suggesting that he was not a "fair" referee.
"You want a fair referee, you know; you want a strong referee anyway and we didn't get that," the manager told MUTV. "I don't know why he's got the game. I must say that when I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst."
Liverpool , improving under Kenny Dalglish until their defeat at West Ham, are suddenly seeing the avenues to next season's Europa League being blocked off, let alone a Champions League place.
It makes for a fascinating duel, with Ferguson claiming that Rio Ferdinand's calf injury will keep him out of the side -- as well as Nemanja Vidic, suspended after his dismissal at Stamford Bridge.
"We feel pretty down, but we can move on quickly," said Michael Carrick. "Sunday is obviously a huge game and we'll be ready for it. We have to be."
Ferguson has promised a rare start in central defence for Wes Brown, whose appearances have been limited this term. One of the obvious reasons for that is the form of Chris Smalling, who despite conceding Chelsea's penalty, produced another mature display at Stamford Bridge.
Sunday promises to be his toughest test, though, given both the magnitude of the occasion and the fact he has not played alongside Brown before.
It is little wonder that Dalglish is seriously considering handing Andy Carroll his Liverpool debut at a time when Ferguson's options are severely limited through injury. (© Independent News Service)