There was a mixture of anger and anticipation at Middlesbrough yesterday: tonight's FA Cup fifth round replay against Sheffield United may be stimulating excitement among Gareth Southgate's squad but the Football Association's decision yesterday to reject Boro's appeal against Jérémie Aliadière's red card at Anfield on Saturday sent Boro's hierarchy apoplectic.
The FA not only dismissed Aliadière's case as "frivolous", they upped the punishment from a three to a four-game ban and Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson reacted by calling the FA panel "amateurs" and "silly little men".
"It's a ridiculous decision to call it frivolous and I'm absolutely furious," Gibson said. "Most observers of our game thought it was very harsh when Jérémie was sent off and I certainly can't see how one player was more guilty than the other. To be sent off for serious violent play suggests the prospect of someone being seriously hurt and that clearly wasn't the case.
"On that basis we appealed. We thought a more experienced ref would have only given both players a talking to. To punish the club further simply because the disciplinary panel says our appeal was frivolous is absolutely subjective. We have amateurs in charge of the professional game.
"This damages the player's season and it weakens our squad at a crucial time. When you look at some of the bad tackles that have been punished far less it's completely ludicrous. This is a professional game and we need professional people making professional decisions not these silly little men."
Boro's chief executive Keith Lamb described the panel as "nameless and faceless", and their findings as "distasteful".
This will hurt the FA, while Aliadière's suspension this evening means that Southgate will probably plump for new £12.5m signing Afonso Alves to partner Tuncay Sanli. It would be Alves's first start and it would leave Mido on the bench, but Southgate has a serious relegation battle at home to Reading on Saturday to consider also. Mido would be fresh for it.
Retaining Premier League status is obviously Middlesbrough's priority, but given that tonight's winners have a home tie against Cardiff City in the next round, Boro's players are beginning to see a path to a Wembley semi-final.
Watching recent colleague Jonathan Woodgate score Tottenham's winner in Sunday's Carling Cup final against Chelsea has motivated Boro further.
"I was shocked when Woody scored," said Stewart Downing, whose sister Natalie is Woodgate's girlfriend. "I wondered if he would, then he popped up in the box – it hit him in the face but they all count. I am pleased for him. You watch the celebrations after the game and you hope that will be us one day.
"I am desperate to get to Wembley. The new Wembley is massive. The changing rooms, everything. When it is full it is rocking. It still feels like the old Wembley."
Downing has put pen to paper on his new contract after some acrimony between his agent and Gibson. He is now focusing on realising the ambition he said Boro displayed in signing Alves and wants Boro to be "top seven" as soon as possible.
In the Cup, Boro will have to play better than they did at Bramall Lane in the goalless draw there 10 days ago. That was Kevin Blackwell's first game since Bryan Robson's departure. It was the fifth of six consecutive draws for the Blades, who have lost only once in 11 matches.Reuse content