Football: Replay `sets dangerous precedent'

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The Independent Online
AS THE country's most senior referee said yesterday that the rescheduling of Saturday's FA Cup match between Arsenal and Sheffield United had set "a very dangerous precedent", it emerged that an incident very similar to Saturday's occurred a fortnight ago and an "ungentlemanly" goal on that occasion had been disallowed.

During a Second Division match between Wrexham and Preston, the referee, Brian Coddington, dropped the ball near the half-way line to restart the game after an injury. Wrexham's Jeff Whitley promptly lobbed it into Preston's net from over 50 yards, but Coddington immediately ruled it out and gave a goal-kick.

"It was obviously wrong to allow the goal, it was an absolute fluke," Coddington said yesterday. "In the spirit of the law, we had to re-start the game and cancel the goal. I thought straight away `this is not right', and the players did too. In the end, we all had a good laugh. It was 4- 0 to Preston at the time, but I could not let the goal stand as there is a spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law."

Philip Don, the Premier League referees' spokesman, said of the decision to replay Saturday's match: "A very dangerous precedent has been set. The referee is there to control a game according to the rules, which state that whoever scores the most goals wins. Whatever one may think about the rights and wrongs of what happened, no laws were broken when the goal was scored."

Of Marc Overmars' goal, which put Arsenal 2-1 ahead following a throw- in intended for United's goalkeeper, Alan Kelly, Don added: "I've heard plenty of people say what Peter Jones [Saturday's referee] should have done, but under the laws of the game he did exactly what he had to do. Nobody seems to be talking about the conduct of the players."

The FA confirmed yesterday that the bookings and goals from Saturday's Highbury match will stand for disciplinary and statistical purposes, but the controversy over the incident shows few signs of abating. The Blades' Independent supporters' association said it will appeal for the re-match to be played at Bramall Lane, and the Football Supporters' Association called on Arsenal to sell tickets for the reorganised game at heavily subsidised rates to fans who attended on Saturday.