By Matthew Campbell
Manchester United had to rely on the late late show from Dimitar Berbatov to secure all three points for the league leaders against Bolton Wanderers, a victory that extends their lead at the top of the table to four points.
Bolton will feel hard done by not to get anything out of this game as Owen Coyle’s men defended resolutely throughout the entire 90 minutes and themselves had chances to take the three points.
This wasn’t exactly the most challenging games of football to officiate for Andre Marriner, who was taking charge of his third Man United game of the season having overseen their 2-1 victories over Stoke and Manchester City respectively.
The first half stats showed that both sides were pretty even in terms of attempts at goal, but United had much more of the ball than the away side and had a really good chance to take the lead through Javier Hernandez, but his shot went just wide, before Bolton had a good chance with a Martin Petrov free kick, but the Bulgarian’s effort was straight down Edwin Van Der Sar’s throat.
In a quiet first half, Marriner was only called upon to make one real decision and that was a potential penalty for United. Hernandez’s shot struck the hand of Gary Cahill inside the penalty area. Marriner, who had gotten himself in a really good position, ruled that it wasn’t a deliberate handball. I actually think he got this decision wrong as Cahill’s arm was well above his head and although his slid in to block the shot, he has definitely stopped it with his hand, so although harsh, I think United should have had a spot kick.
One major talking point in the second half was a horror tackle from United defender Jonny Evans on Bolton’s Stuart Holden, a challenge that saw the American, and arguably Wanderers’ best player, stretchered off.
Owen Coyle was furious with the challenge but Marriner did everything he could in sending off Evans. It was the most clear red card you’ll see all season and in all honesty the tackle deserves much more than the three game ban it will receive.
Marriner showed why he is one of the best most consistent referees on the Select Group list by playing some really good advantages for both sides. His best attribute is without a doubt his fitness as his movement around the pitch is very good. On a couple of occasions in this game United had a chance to score and then Bolton broke on a counter attack, Marriner managed to sprint from one penalty area to another in rapid quick time to keep up with play.
He used his man management skills to brilliant effect by managing not to show any yellow cards and opted to talk to players instead.
United finally got a winner two minutes from time after Dimitar Berbatov tapped the ball home after Jussi Jaaskelinen failed to hold a Nani shot. Bolton defenders appealed for offside but Jake Collin the assistant referee got the decision spot on, he was onside.
This was the first of five games that United boss Sir Alex Ferguson will have to watch from the stands after his FA ban for comments about Martin Atkinson and in all honesty neither manager can have any complaints about Marriner’s performance.
My Rating: 7/10
A good strong performance from a consistently good performing referee. Marriner showed today why he deserves to get the best games and in my opinion must be considered behind Phil Dowd to referee this season’s FA Cup final.
He got the red card decision absolutely spot on. I think he should have given United a penalty, however, luckily for him the decision didn’t affect the outcome.
A trip to Upton Park to face struggling West Ham United is on the agenda next for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in a match that both sides need to win.
The Hammers are fighting for their lives to void relegation and having lost to Tottenham in their last Premier League encounter, they are now (points) from safety.
United on the other hand sit pretty at the top of the table, however with only (points) separating them from Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal, they cannot afford to be dropping points otherwise the title could be ripped from their grasp.
West Ham have lost the last five meetings without having scored a goal and by conceding 13. Avram Grant’s side did beat United 4-0 in the fifth round of the Carling Cup in November at Upton Park, however a repeat score line is highly unlikely.
This fixture has been refereed by some very experienced officials in the past with Mark Clattenburg, Alan Wiley and Peter Walton taking charge of the last three league meetings and I think an equally experienced head will take charge of this encounter.
This match needs a strong referee who is dependable. A referee who blends into the background unnoticed and gets the decisions correct, so because of this I am predicting that Mark Halsey will take charge of the match.
Halsey made a huge error a couple of weeks ago when he failed to send off Alan Hutton for Tottenham against Wolves, but that is the only mistake I think he has made this season, and because of this is the ideal choice for any big Premier League clash.
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