Paul Parker

Refereeing decisions no excuse

Paul Parker

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Alex Ferguson was wrong to again drag the referee into post-match
discussions following Manchester United's defeat to Liverpool.

The United boss suggested that Andre Mariner was too
inexperienced to handle a game of that magnitude, but how else is a referee
supposed to become experienced if they don't officiate those kinds of games?

Mariner didn't have a bad game by any stretch of the
imagination, and the only decision he might have got wrong was when he showed
Jamie Carragher yellow for his foul on Michael Owen. It could easily have been

But even if it had been, it would probably have proved too
late for United to salvage something from the game. And the truth is they did
not deserve anything from it.

Forget about that brilliant finish from Fernando Torres and
all the criticism of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand, the match was won and
lost in midfield.

Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva ran that area of the pitch
all game long and United seemed powerless to doing anything about it.

How United missed the presence of Darren Fletcher. The Scot
has come on so much over the past few seasons that he is now the first name on
the teamsheet for a big game.

Without him, United lacked energy in the middle of the park
and both Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes looked laboured. Neither managed to
get about the pitch and there was no real zip to their play.

Park Ji-sung is another player who, like Fletcher, can
inject some life into proceedings and he was also sorely missed at Anfield.

The team that wanted to win that game the most took the
three points. Liverpool badly needed a victory
and they got one, deservedly so.

The problem Rafa Benitez faces now is maintaining the
standard they set on Sunday.

It is all well and good raising their game for the big
clashes, but how will they react next weekend down at Fulham?

They are the kind of encounters that can prove crucial to a
club's title ambitions. Three points are still just three points, no matter who
you win them against.

It is fair to say that Liverpool's
downfall last season was due to their failure to take maximum points off a
couple of the 'lesser' sides.

It turned out that draws can be costly and if Liverpool are to truly get their season back up and
running, Saturday's game at Craven Cottage is just as important as the one
against United.

As for United, there are a few issues that need to be
addressed, most notably at the back, where Rio Ferdinand again looked out of

Being in London for the
launch of a film he helped produce in the build-up to such a big game cannot
have helped his preparations and by sanctioning such a trip, Ferguson did not help himself.

But the result should not knock United off their stride too
badly and talk of a crisis at Old Trafford is ludicrous. After all, they have
proved over the years that they are at their most dangerous coming off the back
from a bad result.

That cannot be good news for Blackburn,
who have the thankless task of visiting Old Trafford at the
weekend to face a team who now have a similar mindset to that of Liverpool just days ago.

And we all know how that particular wounded animal bit back.

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