Saturday 24 March 2018

O'Neill blasts Dowd as final injustice to fuel Villa desire for Wembley return

Peter Lansley

MARTIN O'Neill does not believe that Phil Dowd should be trusted to take charge of an Aston Villa match again this season.

The Villa manager is still smarting from Dowd's decision to allow Nemanja Vidic to stay on the field at Wembley on Sunday, despite denying Gabriel Agbonlahor a clear goal-scoring opportunity five minutes into the Carling Cup final, which Manchester United went on to win 2-1.

Although James Milner converted the ensuing penalty, Vidic was not even cautioned for the offence, prompting O'Neill's post-match claim that the Staffordshire official had effectively cost Villa the trophy.

O'Neill wants to use this sense of injustice to fuel a return to Wembley as Villa visit Reading in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup tomorrow, when Mike Dean will take the whistle. Dowd will be the fourth official in the weekend's first quarter-final between Portsmouth and Birmingham City this lunchtime.

O'Neill believes it is unlikely that Dowd will officiate at a Villa match in the foreseeable future. "There's a fair chance that he wouldn't be refereeing any of our games again this season," he said. "That's in fairness to both ourselves and our opposition, because what you don't want is somebody trying to level something up again, to try and make something up to you."

Asked whether he would complain if Dowd were appointed to a Villa game, O'Neill said: "I don't think I'll have to. That's hypothetical because I don't think he'll be in charge for one of our games, do you?"

O'Neill has not heard directly from Dowd since the final, but has read various justifications, including that of Graham Poll, the former referee, who suggested that it was not a red-card offence because Agbonlahor was heading away from goal.

"The decision isn't any easier to take today than it was on Sunday," O'Neill said.

"If the referee had chosen to send him off, nobody would have complained. When his reason has then been backed up by another referee, who gives out three yellow cards to a player without sending him off, then you think the best thing would be to own up and admit you've made a mistake because the reasoning behind it is even more ludicrous.

"It doesn't matter how good Manchester United are, a team chasing the game with 85 minutes to go, those are the rules. The referee is there to administer the laws, not make them up."

The Villa manager accepted that Dowd's judgment may have been swayed by previous form. Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, had commented last season that it was little surprise when Dowd sent off Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes against Fulham because the official had previously shown five red cards and 18 yellows to United players in 12 Premier League games.

"I think you would have to give those reasons some consideration," O'Neill added yesterday.

The Villa manager cut a forlorn figure yesterday five days after his Wembley disappointment, but he believes his players will require little motivating at the Madejski Stadium.

"If ever there was an incentive to get back to Wembley again, last Sunday should be it," O'Neill continued.

"The England players are still fighting for a spot on the plane and there's plenty for them to be considering between now and the end of the season.

"At club level, we're still involved in the FA Cup and we'd love to try and get there again.

"We should have a big enough incentive."

Stiliyan Petrov and James Collins did not train yesterday, after captaining Bulgaria and Wales respectively in midweek, but Villa will have to buck recent history if they are to regain their momentum.

They have not won a match in March since 2005 and, since O'Neill took over in August 2006, that amounts to 12 games without a victory in the month the clocks change.

"Apparently this record was here before I arrived," he said. "Someone reminded me of this last season. I just wish they'd told me in March rather than April." (© The Times, London)

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