Football: League and FA take hard line on 'soft' referees: Premiership match officials accused of going easy on top players while the new Wales manager gets tough with his main men

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The Independent Online
THE Football League is to discuss refereeing standards amid growing concern that some officials adopt a more lenient attitude towards Premiership clubs to safeguard their position among the top band of referees.

The move follows Tranmere's stinging criticism of Allan Gunn's handling of their Coca-Cola Cup semi-final at Aston Villa on Sunday. Mark Bosnich secured Villa's place at Wembley with three penalty saves, but the First Division club insist the goalkeeper should not have been on the field having earlier fouled John Aldridge to concede a spot kick.

Senior referees retain their place at the top of the list through the Premiership marking system, and it has led to suspicion within the Football League that they take a softer line with the best players.

'The referee's job is to apply the laws of the game irrespective of whether it involves the goalkeeper of Aston Villa or Northampton Town,' Ian Cotton, a League spokesman, said. 'We will be discussing the whole matter at officer level sooner rather than later.'

Tranmere yesterday sent an official protest to the League and are refusing to award Gunn any marks for his performance. They have the support of the world game's ruling body, Fifa, which says that any player who unfairly denies another a goal-scoring opportunity must be sent off. The Football Association, which only three weeks ago reminded all referees of the ruling, may also consider disciplinary action.

The new Wales manager, John Toshack, has said he will dispense with one of his three leading strikers - Ian Rush, Mark Hughes or Dean Saunders - to give the team a better balance.

'To play with all three in the same team is not an ideal situation,' Toshack said as he considered his line-up for his first game in charge against Norway in Cardiff next week. 'I see football these days at this level as a 13 versus 13 game and I want one of them to play for possibly 30 minutes coming on from the bench.'

Toshack, who also said he was not keen on following Terry Yorath's solution of using Hughes in a midfield role, might choose Saunders as the fall guy, because the Villa striker is suspended for the first two European Championship qualifying ties in the autumn.

So little, Galatasaray apart, has gone wrong for Manchester United this season it seems almost unfair that injuries should have as big a problem knocking them out of their stride as the rest of the Premiership. But as they prepared for tonight's Coca-Cola Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday the medical reports mirrored those of the season in being rosy if not bright red.

Ryan Giggs, who missed Saturday's draw at West Ham, will play at Hillsborough and even Denis Irwin (back strain) may be fit to defend the 1-0 first-leg lead. Wednesday's walking wounded, in contrast, have made virtually no progress.

In theory the extra seven days provided by last week's postponement should have aided injury-disrupted Wednesday. Instead it was Trevor Francis who was fretting over whether Chris Waddle would recover from an Achilles tendon injury while, for United, Alex Ferguson's problems dwindled.

'It's gung-ho for them,' Ferguson said, 'but it has been a long time since we have been beaten by two clear goals at home or away.' The last time, in fact, was against Everton in August 1992.

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