'Nothing sinister' in switching referee

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The Independent Online

The body responsible for refereeing appointments in the Premiership yesterday insisted that there was "nothing sinister" in the decision to switch Mark Clattenburg away from Fulham's match against Southampton.

The Newcastle official became the youngest man to take charge of a top-flight match when he refereed Crystal Palace's home match with Everton last month at the age of 29. However, he is no longer listed to be the man in the middle at Craven Cottage on Saturday. The west Londoners had Papa Bouba Diop and Andrew Cole sent off in an ill-tempered game against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

Graham Poll is now looking after the game, with Clattenburg going to Aston Villa instead, but Professional Game Match Official Limited, which deals with the training and appointment of referees, insist the switch is innocent. "It's just the case that we had to move referees around. There's nothing more sinister to it than that," a PGMOL spokeswoman said.

Clattenburg was criticised by the Portsmouth manager, Harry Redknapp, after he booked the striker Ricardo Fuller during the match at Blackburn. A yellow card was shown even though it appeared that the Rovers goalkeeper Brad Friedel had collided with Fuller.

The Essex official Andy D'Urso was banned for one month earlier this season after he booked Blackburn's Barry Ferguson twice, but failed to send him off. His first game after suspension will be Rotherham's game against Millwall on Saturday.

The general manager of PGMOL, Keith Hackett, has called on players not to return to the "dark days" of harassing match officials. Hackett was concerned by the actions of Fulham's players in the match against West Bromwich, in which they surrounded the referee, Mike Dean, on several occasions to dispute his decisions.

Fulham have been charged by the Football Association over their behaviour and Hackett hopes previous discussions with the players' union and League Managers' Association will stop the problem spreading. Hackett said: "I would like to think that this was a one-off scenario and that we will not get back to the dark days of players challenging every decision by a referee."

Hackett also backed Dean over his handling of the game, but admitted that the official had made a mistake in not penalising Edwin van der Sar for being off his line at a penalty kick.

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