'Farce' goal ref sticks to his guns
MANCHESTER UTD 2
REFEREE Mark Clattenburg will stick by his controversial decision to let Nani's goal stand, justified by the fact that he saw the Manchester United winger handle the ball and played advantage.
Clattenburg has come under fire from Harry Redknapp, who said that the referee had "made a real cock-up" in the aftermath of Spurs' defeat at Old Trafford and would "make up a story" to get out of it.
But Clattenburg has told friends that he is happy with the decision and the only reason that he did not appear on television to explain it is because match officials are discouraged from doing so by the referees' organisation, Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).
There was strong criticism of Clattenburg by members of the Spurs coaching staff and some pushing and shoving in the Old Trafford tunnel after the game, although no further action will be taken.
It is expected that PGMOL will ask retired referees Alan Wiley and Steve Bennett to defend and explain Clattenburg's decision over the next few days.
They will also address the late flag after the goal by assistant Simon Beck that came in for criticism on 'Match of the Day' on Saturday night. Gary Lineker suggested that Beck was flagging late in order to cover himself.
However, Beck held the flag up straight without 'agitating', which indicated that he needed to talk to the referee. He was not flagging for the original handball.
There is frustration in the refereeing fraternity that even the BBC's top pundits do not know basic rules of the game.
Clattenburg has said in private that he saw the Nani handball, but because goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had the ball in his hand he played advantage. Spurs were one goal down with six minutes to play and Clattenburg decided they would be best served by being able to clear the ball upfield. Given that Gomes had the ball in his hands, the linesman was not obliged to flag for the Nani handball.
Even before Gomes put the ball down, the game was live and Nani was in his rights to score. If there was one criticism that Clattenburg has admitted that he accepts, it was that he should have been more demonstrative about telling Gomes and the Spurs players he was playing advantage.
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Beck raised his flag to call Clattenburg over. He asked the referee whether he had seen the handball. Clattenburg replied that he had and that he had played advantage. As a result, the goal was allowed to stand.
Redknapp was unrepentant after the game over his hard-hitting criticism of Clattenburg -- chiefly for what he saw as the referee's failure to make it clear that the advantage was being played.
"He made a real cock-up, there's no doubt about that," Redknapp said. "Whatever he says -- he can come out and say what he wants -- he should have made the situation clearer.
"If he's not given the free-kick he should be going to the goalkeeper, 'Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up'. I think he should have made it clearer to the 'keeper because I'm sure everybody stopped and saw the handball and thought he'd given the handball.
"Yeah, we all say play to the whistle from when you're kids, but he (Gomez) just thought it was a blatant handball.
"I'm not standing here saying we'd have won the game, but it's just a shame that it ended in such a farcical manner really. It was a nonsense."
United manager Alex Ferguson, who naturally doled out the blame for the fiasco of the goal squarely into the hands of the anguished Gomes, could fairly claim a successful mission.
Nemanja Vidic, who is confidently giving the clothes of captaincy a lived-in look, put Robbie Keane in his back pocket and scored a headed goal of unanswerable precision when Nani flighted in an optimum level free-kick.
Darren Fletcher was at his best, supremely functional and so a key factor in United's ability to contain even the best of Rafael van der Vaart, with the conspicuous exception of the occasion when the Dutchman quite magisterially made room for himself before clipping a 20-yard shot against a post.
What we didn't get, though, was possibly something that Ferguson hoped for most -- an unequivocal statement for everyone, and not least the watching Wayne Rooney, that his team were back in the old groove of competing seriously at the top of the English game.
Rooney's assumption that he now only has to look at his pay slip to get an overwhelming sense of indispensability was challenged once or twice by the natural intelligence of his highly promising understudy, Javier Hernandez.
The journey of the youngster's parents from Mexico went unrewarded with one of those creative goal strikes which have caused such a stir in recent weeks, but they saw evidence that their 'Little Pea' is ripening nicely.
Beside him, Dimitar Berbatov promised rather more than he achieved, but again there were some silky notes and certainly United can feel reasonably confident that the goals department can hold out well enough until Rooney eventually returns with some serious intentions.
Still required, though, is convincing backing of Ferguson's weekend assertion that the reins are again firmly in his hands and that his playing resources are strong enough for him to ignore the advice of Rooney to draw up a shopping list for the January transfer window.
On this evidence, there is still much room for discussion in the jury room.
Nani, we know now, can win matches, but there is still a demand for anxious speculation about the location of his head when he runs out on the field.
On this occasion it was mostly in the right place -- unquestionably when he put in his beautiful set-piece cross and quick-wittedly punished the confusion which gripped the Spurs goalkeeper so disastrously.
These moments, to give him his due, made the vital difference between the teams and there is no doubt that United have become critically dependent on such interventions from a player who so recently seemed to represent serious over-investment.
With a price tag of £18m weighing ever more heavily around his neck, Michael Carrick certainly has to sharply upgrade his contribution if he is to enjoy a similar level of redemption.
It was a decent win against a decent team but United, like Carrick, must know at this late hour they still have everything to prove. (© Independent News Service)