Some would argue that today should be an occasion to toast Harry Redknapp, for whom the FA Cup has created an opportunity, after the most dramatic of weekends, to strike a blow for a seemingly dying breed as well as to win the first significant honour of a colourful career.
Should Portsmouth win at Wembley in May – and the demise of Chelsea leaves them as strong favourites – Redknapp would be the first English manager to lift one of the two major trophies since Joe Royle won the FA Cup with Everton in 1995.
Yet the fallout from Sir Alex Ferguson's intemperate blast at the referee Martin Atkinson and his superior, Keith Hackett, will dominate today's headlines. The Manchester United manager, who was banned earlier this season for his behaviour towards another official, believes Atkinson should be penalised for an "unacceptable" performance and accused Hackett, who is in charge of the English game's match officials, of appointing referees on the basis of favouritism.
The Football Association said yesterday that it would investigate Ferguson's remarks, made in interviews on Sky television and on United's own channel. They will be obliged also to study comments made by his assistant, Carlos Queiroz, who could find himself in even hotter water.
Speaking to the BBC, Queiroz channelled his anger into a wide-ranging and sometimes bizarre rant in which he described Atkinson as "a robber", who saw the match "from one side" and applied rules in his treatment of United players that he did not apply to Portsmouth.
He drew parallels between Lassana Diarra's treatment of Cristiano Ronaldo and the recent challenge by Birmingham's Martin Taylor that left Arsenal's Eduardo da Silva with a broken leg. He also called for referees to be subject to a red card in the same way as players – and replaced even while a match was in progress.
If the decision by Atkinson not to award a penalty against Sylvain Distin for barging Ronaldo in the seventh minute was the focal point of United's rage, Queiroz insisted that there was more to it than that, naming Diarra, rather than Distin, as the player he believed was the biggest offender.
He accused Diarra of elbowing Ronaldo inside the first minute and Atkinson of allowing the France international to continue employing rough-house tactics effectively without restraint, although Diarra did eventually receive a caution.
"It was a clear penalty [against Distin] but before that there were two attacking fouls on Ronaldo," Queiroz said. "What does Diarra expect when he elbows a player and puts him over the touchline: that he becomes a saint?
"That's why the Taylors of this game can survive and some of the best players are out of the game. It cannot happen any more. The referees were a disgrace – they did not do their job. When referees come here and support players that in the first 15 minutes do nothing but foul, stopping attacking movements, it needs attention bringing to it.
"It is a pity but the game has moved to a situation where the referees also deserve red cards. This referee today, he deserved that somebody come inside the pitch after five minutes, give him a red card and put him out of the game. That is my opinion about these robbers today."
Queiroz said United had no complaint over the penalty awarded to Portsmouth, when the substitute goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak brought down the Pompey substitute Milan Baros and Sulley Muntari scored the winning goal from the spot. Nor did he feel that the red card for Kuszczak was unjust – but, he said, he believed Atkinson had applied one rule for United and another for Portsmouth.
"We accept the penalty against us, but it is exactly what should have happened when Cristiano was alone and he was stopped from scoring a goal – foul, red card, OK.
"We accept the red card against us but what we cannot accept is the referees who are only able to watch one side. That cannot happen, it is not acceptable in the game. There are no different rules for Manchester United."
Ferguson had said that Atkinson's performance "should not be accepted" and called for Hackett's performance to be assessed as closely as the officials he oversees.
"I'm assessed as a manager, players are assessed – and that performance should not be accepted," he said. "Keith Hackett has a lot to answer for; he is not doing his job properly. He has to be assessed. His favourites always get the games and that's disappointing. That guy [Atkinson] will referee next week, no problem."
Ferguson was banned from the touchline for two matches and fined £5,000 after he admitted using "abusive and/or insulting words" towards the referee Mark Clattenburg during a match at Bolton last November, when he similarly felt his players were not protected from physical tactics.
Amid all this, a splendid defensive performance by Portsmouth, as United spurned chance after chance to render the penalty controversy irrelevant, risks passing without proper recognition, as does the lone voice of Distin, who spoke on behalf of defenders in this debate.
"He [Ronaldo] just touched the ball and I followed the ball; it was shoulder against shoulder," he said. "I am not going to move out of the way and say, 'Go on and pass me', so I try and defend and do my job. Football is also about contact. If every time you touch a player a penalty is awarded, then how do you defend?"
He did defend, heroically, as also did Glen Johnson, supporting Redknapp's claim that he should be in the England squad. Both Distin and Johnson made goal-preventing stops and their goalkeeper, David James, pushed a Patrice Evra shot on to a post.
It was Redknapp's third noteworthy FA Cup win against United, having pulled it off with Bournemouth in 1984 and West Ham in 2001. This time it might preface his winning the trophy.
"I'm excited," he said. "I've never been to Wembley as a player or a manager – the semis is the furthest I've been. After the strides we have made with this club, to win it would be fantastic."
Goal: Muntari pen (78) 0-1.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar (Kuszczak, h-t); Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Scholes, Hargreaves (Carrick, 68), Nani; Rooney, Tevez (Anderson 68). Substitutes not used: O'Shea, Park.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Diarra; Utaka (Lauren, 74), Bouba Diop, Muntari, Kranjcar (Hughes, 81); Kanu (Baros, 54). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Mvuemba.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire)
Booked: Manchester United Rooney; Portsmouth Bouba Diop, Diarra.
Sent off: Kuszczak (76).
Man of the match: Johnson.
Attendance: 75,463.Reuse content