What a difference a week and some crazy fixture congestion makes. It was only Thursday the 17th when Chelsea manager Avram Grant put on a public display of petulance that made Bobby Knight look positively rosy by comparison following a drab 1-0 victory over Everton. By Saturday afternoon, however, Grant’s Blues — also 90 minutes away from a Champions League final — find themselves very much in the mix for the Premier League crown following a 2-1 defeat of Manchester United, a result that left both clubs level on 81 points with two matches remaining. Manchester United possess a considerable advantage on goal differential, but the prospect of their only managing a draw against West Ham or Wigan over the next two weekends is not the most unlikely scenario, not when you consider the lack of poise shown by their captain. The Observer’s Duncan Castles on what might be the start of the biggest choke job in recent memory to not invoke the name Willie Randolph.
Rio Ferdinand admitted accidentally kicking a female steward in the aftermath of his team’s 2-1 defeat. Ferdinand said: “I kicked a ball in frustration at the result, as I have done before in the past. Unfortunately a lady was stood by and I accidentally brushed her with my foot. I went back to make sure she was OK and apologised profusely. Credit to her, she laughed it off and was very understanding. She said she wasn’t hurt. I’ve arranged for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to her.”
But however accidental the contact, Ferdinand’s expression of anger will not have impressed Fabio Capello, who was at the game and chose the United player to captain England against France last month. And, as Patrice Evra, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Gerard Pique and John O’Shea were warming down, a row developed with Chelsea groundstaff and punches appeared to be thrown. A Chelsea spokesman said: “We will be studying the CCTV footage of the incident and take whatever action is appropriate.”
As a result of their defeat, United must at least match Chelsea’s results against Newcastle and Bolton in the next fortnight to retain the title. Although Ferguson fielded only a half-strength team – starting with his two leading scorers, Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, on the bench – the Scot chose to attack referee Alan Wiley’s decision to award Chelsea their penalty when Michael Carrick clearly handled a Michael Essien cross.
“Absolutely diabolical,” Ferguson said. “It’s a major decision. Granted it hit his hand. He’s not lifted his hand above his shoulders, above his head, anything like that. The ball is going straight to Rio Ferdinand. The referee should have seen that rather than the linesman. If it goes down to decisions like those we’re in trouble. If we’re not getting decisions we deserve then we’re going to have to perform really well.”
Ferguson further criticised Wiley for failing to award United an earlier penalty and for failing to take action against Didier Drogba when a collision with the striker’s knee forced Nemanja Vidic out of the game.
“In the context of today when Ronaldo comes on and from the first minute he is grappled to the floor by Ballack,” Ferguson added. “Clear penalty kick. No penalty given. Vidic needed stitches and lost a tooth. He got kneed in the face by Drogba, no foul given. He was dazed actually rather than concussion.”