'The referee has to know the person. It's his first red card'
Louis van Gaal accused referee Mike Dean of being too quick to dismiss Juan Mata after the referee sent off the Manchester United midfielder for two yellow cards in the space of two minutes as his team's Champions League hopes suffered a damaging blow at The Hawthorns.
United were forced to play with 10 men for 64 minutes following Mata's first-half dismissal - for failing to retreat at a free-kick and then fouling Darren Fletcher - before going down to a 1-0 defeat.
But despite Mata's recklessness with the challenge on Fletcher, Van Gaal refused to condemn the Spaniard.
"What can I say when you send off a player like Mata?" Van Gaal said. "I have asked him if it's his first red card and he said 'yes'. When you give the first and second yellow within minutes, you can do it according to the rules, but I think the referee has to know the person doing it.
"I don't think Mata has ever had bad tackles and something like that. Most referees show that (discretion). You know the first one is a stupid yellow card and then you have to be aware the referee can give a second yellow card. A referee has to decide within one second, but when you know the player, Mata never hurts a player."
Tony Pulis, whose team ended a 32-year wait for an Albion home league win against United, insisted that his players had to fight for the victory, despite Mata's red card forcing the visitors to play with 10 men for over an hour.
"Them going down to 10 men affected the game," Pulis said. "But we watched Liverpool go down to 10 before this game (against Crystal Palace) and they won 2-1. You're never comfortable against top teams with pace, but once we got the goal we settled down."
West Brom midfielder Fletcher claimed Mata, his former United team-mate, could have no complaints about Dean's decision.
"It was the referee's decision," he said. "I tried to take a quick free-kick and got blocked, and then tried to start a counter-attack and got tripped. I thought we looked flat when they went to 10, but the advantage of 11 versus 10 seemed to get us through in the end."
Despite refusing to blame Mata, Van Gaal admitted that the defeat has left United battling to climb into the top four. "It is a bad moment for us," he said. "The loss is a big blow because it was not necessary. When you see the first half, it was not necessary I think."
Defeat leaves United needing to close a three-point gap on Manchester City - their next league opponents on March 20 - to sustain realistic hopes of Champions League qualification, with Michael Carrick acknowledging that the team must launch another winning run.
"It's a setback," the midfielder said. "We wanted to carry on the form and results we have shown of late, so it's very disappointing. Losing a man like we did makes it even more difficult.
"But the top is not out of sight. We just need to get back to winning ways, but that's easy to say. We have big cup games coming up and we need to be ready for them."
Independent News Service