Football: Holden's dismissal sparks criticism

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Oldham Athletic. . .0

Arsenal. . . . . . .0

OLDHAM and Arsenal were agreed on one issue after a rare goalless draw at Boundary Park but an increasingly commonplace one for the Gunners.

The managers, Joe Royle and George Graham, both condemned the decision of the referee, Mike Reed, to send off Rick Holden for a petulant but essentially harmless push on Lee Dixon after the England full-back had stopped him taking a quick throw in the 37th minute.

'They must have had him on weights at Manchester City,' said Royle of his returned but swiftly departed prodigal. 'I didn't realise that he could push someone that far.'

Graham described the incident as a bookable offence and the decision as harsh. As he observed, it created a nasty atmosphere for the rest of the match, with Dixon, who was booked for his part, a convenient replacement for Ian Wright as the crowd's hate object.

That role was confirmed when Dixon appeared to handle the ball as he jumped for Andy Barlow's cross in the last minute. Wright, still remembered for a spitting incident here two years ago, finished as an Oldham hero by comparison and Dixon was escorted from the field by two policemen.

The loss of Holden in his first home game after an unhappy swim as a smaller fish in the bigger pool of Maine Road was crucial for Oldham.

After his departure, Arsenal enjoyed more of the play, but never suggested much confidence in their ability to get a win to follow two goalless draws in the Premiership.

Wright, well policed by Craig Fleming, had his moments, notably one dipping drive that was well held by Paul Gerrard, who also managed to beat out a firm downward header from Alan Smith.

Tony Adams had a header hooked off the line by Steve Redmond, but 10-man Oldham were a long way from being the passive partners.

The opportunities they made when Holden was there to act as provider slowed to a trickle, but Paul Bernard missed one good chance when he failed to connect and had another effort cleared off the line.