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Fury at Mario let-off

THE English FA has been accused of double standards after Mario Balotelli, the Manchester City striker, escaped retrospective disciplinary action for his dangerous studs-up lunge on Arsenal's Alex Song.

The decision immediately prompted an angry backlash from fans, with the sense of outrage compounded by the verdict to uphold the red card and suspension of Queens Park Rangers' midfielder Shaun Derry for his sending-off against Manchester United.

While Balotelli's tackle was clearly dangerous, Derry made only the faintest of contact with Ashley Young in conceding a highly contentious penalty.

"Shaun Derry red card stands," said Gary Lineker, the former England captain.

"Who makes these decisions at the FA? Have they any feeling for the game? Beggars belief at times."

QPR officials accused Young of diving after Sunday's game and, privately, the club are seething at news that Derry will be ineligible for tonight's crucial match at home to Swansea City.

"We feel we have been punished three times," said Mark Bowen, the QPR assistant manager.

"The penalty was given, we were without the player for 75 minutes. We fully expected Shaun to be let off and be able to play."

On reviewing the incident, however, it was decided by an independent three-man panel that the decision of referee Lee Mason should stand as it was not a clear and obvious error.

The Balotelli situation provoked even more controversy, particularly as Roberto Mancini, the Manchester City manager, had conceded that it should have been a straight red card.


Mancini had also fully expected Balotelli to be banned for the rest of the season, with his player facing a nine-match suspension if he had been charged with violent conduct.

Balotelli was eventually sent off in stoppage time of Sunday's defeat against Arsenal for two separate bookable tackles and so will now only be banned for the matches against West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Wolves.

Mancini has also made it clear that his wayward striker will be considered for the club's final three games of the season, including the fixture against Manchester United on April 30.

The FA's reasoning for not charging Balotelli over the Song offence was that referee Martin Atkinson had confirmed that the incident was seen by himself or one of his assistants.

In those circumstances, the FA will not review individual decisions, meaning there was no further judgment on whether it was a mistake to not even award a foul for Balotelli's challenge.

The same principle was applied last season when Manchester United's Wayne Rooney escaped punishment for an alleged elbow on Wigan midfielder James McCarthy.

The only exception to that policy in recent memory was when Ben Thatcher, then of Manchester City, was retrospectively banned for eight games following his forearm smash on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes in 2006.

At the time, the FA said that it was an "exceptional" case.

The FA issued a statement yesterday to explain that retrospective disciplinary action would be reserved for off-the-ball incidents that are clearly missed by match officials. Hundreds of football fans used Twitter to accuse the FA of double standards.