Paul Parker

Valencia incident proves refs have tough job

Paul Parker

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Much has
been said about the penalty incident that got Manchester United back in the game
against Liverpool, not least by Rafa Benitez.

Let's be
clear: Javier Mascherano fouled Antonio Valencia. For Benitez to suggest the
winger dived is wrong - Mascherano clearly pulled him back and was deservedly
punished.

But whether
it should have been a penalty or a free-kick was less clear cut. Initial
contact was outside the box, but I felt there was prolonged contact before
Valencia eventually tumbled.

In fairness
to the referee, he would have had no idea of where the foul took place.
Professional footballers are quicker on their feet than officials, meaning more
often than not referees are behind play on quick breaks.

They are
left to rely on their assistants, but linesmen are hardly Linford Christies and
sometimes they also struggle to keep up with play.

Clearly
that was the case on Sunday, and without video replays these types of
situations are always going to cause problems.

But I don't
think Mascherano should have been sent off for the foul - he was making a
genuine attempt to win the ball. There should be a distinction made between the
likes of Mascherano's challenge - and others that are simply mistimed - and
those which are committed in a deliberate attempt to prevent a goalscoring
opportunity.

At the
moment, far too many games are ruined by dismissals for so-called professional
fouls and sometimes the punishment does not seem to fit the crime.

Just ask
Thomas Vermaelen, who was sent off for bringing down West Ham's Guillermo
Franco a day earlier. Not only did he receive his marching orders, he conceded
a penalty and Arsenal were forced to play half the match with 10 men.

Of course,
the Gunners managed to dig deep and win the game anyway, but they will now be
without their key defender for Saturday's trip to Birmingham. And it wasn't
even a foul.

Just as
Arsene Wenger was left annoyed by that decision, Benitez was irked by the one
at Old Trafford, but he should perhaps look at his own team's failures as a
more valid reason for defeat.

I was
particularly disappointed by Fernando Torres, even though he scored a
tremendous header. It's a shame to see top players like him getting so involved
with the referee, even though the official got most things right on the day.

Torres, no
stranger to throwing himself to the floor in certain situations, argued the
toss throughout and it was a poor contribution overall from a player who had
been in great form.

United too
were far from the best, but at this stage of the season, it's all about the
points and the win maintains their title charge.

But it's
not done and dusted yet. United have a tough run-in and with games against
Manchester City and Tottenham there are plenty of pitfalls to come.

City away
in particular presents a difficult game for United. They've proved themselves
already this season, and with a Champions League place to play for, and Carlos
Tevez in their ranks, anything is possible.

There's so
much more at stake now than in previous years and the game against City
promises to be just as defining a game as the Liverpool match.

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