I have watched the footage of Jonny Evans and Papiss Cissé's spitting incident and I come to the same conclusion that was my instinct the first time I saw the replay: I don't think Jonny ever intended to spit at Cissé.
Jonny is an old team-mate of mine and a bloke I like, but let's put that to one side for a moment. I read his statement yesterday that he did not spit at Cissé and I believe him. I could tell you that Jonny is just not the sort of lad to spit on an opponent - although that is what I think - but a clear-headed analysis of the situation proves my point better than any character testimony I might offer.
If you study the footage again you will see that, after Cissé kicks out, and Evans responds, it is the United defender who gets up first. As he does so he is watching Cissé, probably because he suspects that his opponent is still angry and might go for him one more time. You get that impression because both Jonny's hands momentarily come up as if he is preparing to push Cissé away again, or at least defend himself.
As Jonny gets up and takes a step backwards, he spits. At the time his eyes are fixed on Cissé, for the reasons mentioned above, and that is what makes it look bad. But my instinct is that Jonny is spitting to the floor. It is a reflex.
Footballers, athletes in all sorts of sports, have a tendency to spit in the periods of respite after action. You can do it without even thinking. I know that I did, as a player. On this occasion, I believe it was a reflex action from Jonny. Not one aimed at Cissé.
Spitting at an opponent is regarded in English football as the lowest of the low. OK, I have heard the argument that a player would much rather be spat on than have his leg broken and miss nine months of football. Either way, it's not much of a choice is it? I always thought that comparison was a bit of a daft argument contrived to make those who condemned spitting look petty. Why would anyone even seek to rank the worst offences on a pitch?
Let's get it straight, spitting at an opponent is horrible. It's a deeply provocative act that is as unacceptable in the game as it would be on the street. I never experienced it in English football, I'm glad to say, and it never occurred to me to spit at an opponent. It just was not a part of my instinctive psychological reactions. I have never seen Jonny do it before.
Clearly, what Cissé thought had happened provoked a response in him. I can understand that he was upset but his reaction was horrible. He got right in close to Jonny and spat into his neck. He has accepted the Football Association charge and has been banned.
The FA also last night charged Jonny who had earlier protested his innocence. I agree with him, I think he spat at the ground rather than his opponent. (© Independent News Service)
After the stomach-turning exchange of spittle between Jonny Evans of Manchester United and Newcastle's Papiss Cisse TV pundit Phil Neville declared that in the cold light of dawn the culprits would feel "embarrassed".