FA backing for under-fire Poll as row rages over red cards

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The Independent Online

The Football Association and the Professional Game Match Officials Board, the body in charge of England's referees, remained absolute in their support for Graham Poll and his status as one of the country's leading match officials yesterday despite a week of controversy in which his integrity has been called into question.

Poll has received a show of support from his employers, who have retained him for arguably the most important fixture in the Premiership weekend, Manchester City's home game with Newcastle United ­ a contest with major implications for both managers, Stuart Pearce and Glenn Roeder. But it is still to be decided whether Poll will take charge at the crucial match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford on 26 November.

Keith Hackett, head of the match officials' board, accepted last night that there had been a "blip" in relations between officials, players and managers ­ but still believes Poll is one of the leading officials in the English game. "Despite what people might think, I know Graham Poll is a world-class referee," Hackett told BBC Radio 5. "We have had a blip. I'm not going to overreact, and neither are the referees. There is criticism ­ we will examine very carefully the performances of the referees and we will look to improve."

Poll was accused of seeking to teach Chelsea a lesson in discipline by Ashley Cole on Sunday and of mishearing comments that resulted in James McFadden's dismissal for Everton three days later. He hasbeen backed by the FA's compliance department, which has let it be known to Everton that it is in complete agreement with his decision to dismiss McFadden in Wednesday's Carling Cup defeat by Arsenal and that the club would be unwise to take their grievances further.

The Scotland international was sent off for foul and abusive language in the 19th minute of the fourth-round tie, yet vehemently denied calling Poll a cheat after he had refused a penalty appeal by Andrew Johnson, and claimed that he had uttered "shite" instead. Pollstated in his official match report that McFadden had been dismissed for questioning his integrity with the word "cheat". The referee has, in the past, revealed how he would allow players to criticise his decisions but would never accept his professionalism being brought into doubt by such an accusation without recourse to a red card.

Everton attempted to resolve the argument by seeking a recording of the incident from the open microphone that Poll wore to communicate with his assistants but, as none exists, the truth lies in the official's word against McFadden's and the FA supports the referee.

The game at Goodison is the latest in a series of controversies involving Poll, but he retains the support of Hackett, who has been a staunch ally in the fallout from his handling of Chelsea's defeat at Tottenham on Sunday, when he disallowed a Didier Drogba goal and sent off John Terry for collecting two of the champions' six yellow cards.

Terry, Cole and Jose Mourinho all criticised Poll after that game and the FA is still studying the England full-back's comments with regard to a possible improper-conduct charge.

Mourinho maintained his criticism of Poll at Chelsea's Carling Cup defeat of Aston Villa on Wednesday. "Mr Poll was happy with his performance," he said. "But when you say no to a perfectly good goal, when you send off the England captain [Terry] and no one knows why and when you are the centre of attention in a game of high-quality football, I don't know why."

The fallout from the White Hart Lane game may not be over, as it may yet be deemed insensitive to put the Hertfordshire referee in charge of Chelsea's next high-profile game, at Old Trafford later this month.

For his own part, Poll is believed to be unhappy with the FA for not acting on his insistence that Chelsea had used threatening behaviour during the defeat, in particular when several players surrounded the referee to protest against his decision to book Michael Ballack.

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