Sir Alex Ferguson faces a possible Football Association charge after he questioned the integrity of referee Martin Atkinson in the aftermath of Manchester United's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea last night.
Ferguson was furious that the Chelsea defender David Luiz had not been sent off for a cynical challenge on Wayne Rooney. He was also disgusted that Atkinson had awarded Chelsea a late penalty, for a foul by Chris Smalling on substitute Yuri Zhirkov, which Frank Lampard converted to earn his team a vital victory.
The United manager has a history of criticising Atkinson, and was handed a severe warning after comments he made in 2008. But that did not prevent Ferguson from launching into another onslaught following their second league defeat of the season.
Ferguson said: "It's hard to take, we didn't deserve that. You hope you get a really strong referee in games like this. It was a major game for both clubs and you want a fair referee, you know... you want a strong referee anyway and we didn't get that. I must tell you – I must say that when I saw who was refereeing it, I feared the worst. Decisions again, it's been three years in a row now down here."
Ferguson's comments were made to the club's in-house TV channel MUTV last night, and will almost certainly warrant further investigation by the FA. In March 2008, the manager was given a severe warning by the FA after criticising Atkinson and the Premier League head of referees, Keith Hackett, after United lost 1-0 to Portsmouth.
Ferguson was furious after Atkinson failed to award his side a penalty, but gave Portsmouth one and sent off United goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak.
Ferguson was also critical of Atkinson's performance when United lost 1-0 at Stamford Bridge in November 2009.
Last night, two decisions in particular angered Ferguson. He was dismayed that Chelsea's £25.5m defender Luiz was not shown a second yellow card for a clear foul on Rooney. The United manager said: "It was incredible. Even before that he'd done Chicharito [Javier Hernandez] off the ball. He'd done him, late. Nothing's done and the referee's in front of it. He's done Rooney, clear as day, and he's six yards from him. Doesn't do anything. That changes the game in the second half."
On the penalty decision, Ferguson said: "The penalty was so soft, deary, deary me. Well it was very soft. Chris has won the ball and the player has left a leg in. Very, very soft. Amazing."
Chelsea's dramatic victory seemed an unlikely prospect at half-time, when Carlo Ancelotti's side trailed 1-0 to Rooney's spectacular goal. However, Luiz scored with a well-taken half-volley to put the champions back on level terms, and with 11 minutes to go Lampard converted the controversial penalty.
In stoppage time, United defender Nemanja Vidic was sent off, and he will now miss Sunday's game at Liverpool, along with the injured Rio Ferdinand.
The victory leaves Chelsea 12 points behind leaders United with a game in hand, but Ancelotti said the gap was too big for the champions to close. "It's too far. But this victory is important for us and our confidence. It's too far. We can't think about arriving at the top at this moment," he said. "We have to concentrate on ourselves and look not too far in the future. I cannot believe we are this far behind, but we have to be honest."