Football: Kinnear has world and officialdom against him

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE WHAT life will be like for football managers if the all-seeing eye of technology removes doubt from decisions arrived at by assistant referees. What then, take a baseball bat to the machinery?

Meanwhile it's business as usual, human error, much cursing on the touchlines and the sort of bemused expression that Joe Kinnear wore when coming to speak after Wimbledon were held 1-1 at home by Middlesbrough on Saturday.

The validation of Middlesbrough's second goal, a diving header from Hamilton Ricard, was beyond Kinnear's comprehension. "[Brian] Deane was clearly offside but I'm told that he wasn't interfering play," the Wimbledon manager growled. "He was in position to attack the ball if it had reached him."

Then there was Marcus Gayle's volley less than two minutes into the second half. Offside. "I couldn't believe it," Kinnear grumbled while disputing the old theory that these things even themselves out.

"I don't think it happens to the big clubs whey they are are playing at home," he said. Has Kinnear got evidence to suggest the possibility of intimidatory bias. "We've looked into it," he stated.

There was more. After equalising in the 76th minute when Kinnear's gamble of sending four men forward brought Gayle's second headed goal, Wimbledon protested that another of his efforts had been clawed back from behind the goal-line by the Middlesbrough goalkeeper Marlon Beresford. "The people from Sky television have told me that it looks over," Kinnear said.

If that was one line you took away from this engaging afternoon, another is that the Premiership is unfailingly sore on pretension. If Middlesbrough are better equipped to handle the status than they were two seasons ago, Bryan Robson is not carried away by improvement.

"It surprises me to be where we are," the MIddlesbrough manager said, "but the last two matches have been encouraging because they've proved that our squad is stronger than it was when we first came into the Premier League."

Middlesbrough have taken four points from two games in which they have been without Garry Pallister, Paul Gascoigne and Marco Branco. "We have handled that," Robson said. "Not having Pallister here today meant that it would be more a lot more difficult to deal with Wimbledon's threat in the air and we missed Paul's calming influence when Joe put us under pressure by throwing more players forward."

Maybe this is not the kind of information that makes you so glad to have waited around for analysis, but it casts light on the present state of English football.

Certainly, when Kinnear expresses relief after last week's 5-1 slaughter by Manchester United you know where the majority are coming from. "A different world," he admits.

Getting that out of Wimbledon's system brought problems of confidence when Robbie Mustoe thrust forward in the 23rd minute to convert a move inspired by Ricard and carried through by Dean Gordon.

Gayle, who had a terrific match - "he could have scored four, even five," Kinnear said - supplied the answer two minutes later, heading in a Michael Hughes corner at the near post that had resulted from his own shot.

At that stage of the game Wimbledon were still looking over their shoulders, wondering how much more Ricard had to offer. Plenty.

Something of a revelation this season and, combining well with the new signing Deane, Ricard caused Wimbledon no end of problems until frustrated by poor service from midfield. It was Robson's explanation for the Colombian's substitution late in the second half.

The players are the game. But officialdom intrudes on proceedings. Reprimanded by the referee, Stephen Lodge, for encroachment, Kinnear held his ground. "The area in which we can stand is clearly marked off," he said, "but Lodge wanted me back on the bench."

No wonder that Wimbledon's assessment of an errant assistant official amounts to zero for efficiency.

Goals: Mustoe (23) 0-1; Gayle (25) 1-1; Ricard (36) 1-2; Gayle (76) 2- 2.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Thatcher, Hughes, Roberts, Euell ( Kennedy, 71) Earle, Leaburn (Cort, 71), Gayle. Substitutes not used: Kimble, Ardley, Heald (gk).

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Beresford; Cooper, Vickers, Festa, Fleming, Mustoe, Summerbell, Townsend ( Stamp, 82), Gordon, Ricard (Beck, 82), Deane. Substitutes not used: Schwarzer (gk), Blackmore, Stockdale.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Gordon, Summerbell, Cooper.

Man of the match: Gayle.

Attendance: 14,114.