Neville eager to stop 'diver' allegations

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The Independent Online

Gary Neville fears the "diver" accusation levelled at him by the referee Graham Poll has turned him into a marked man among other referees.

Gary Neville fears the "diver" accusation levelled at him by the referee Graham Poll has turned him into a marked man among other referees.

In Tuesday night's 2-0 win over Charlton Athletic, the long-serving Manchester United full-back was booked for the second game in succession following Poll's comments, which dated back to the Premiership match against Arsenal at Highbury last month.

Poll said he should have cautioned Neville for diving during that game, just as Jeff Winter had done during the fractious FA Cup derby with Manchester City in February which saw the 29-year-old sent off for the second time in his career. Sir Alex Ferguson has criticised Poll's comments and Neville is adamant they were a factor in Steve Dunn's decision to book him for dissent on Tuesday after the defender had questioned one of his rulings.

"The referee couldn't wait to book me," said Neville. "I got fouled in the corner, got up and asked the referee why he didn't give the free-kick and he just got the yellow card out.

"Graham Poll didn't upset me but once one referee has said something, the others will take note. I just hope it doesn't cost me over the long term."

Neville has emerged as a target for diving allegations, and TV replays have indicated he was probably guilty on both the occasions currently being discussed. His team-mates Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo have been similarly accused, while the Arsenal pair of Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp are also perceived as divers among the media and some supporters.

"I was amazed to be singled out," admitted Neville, who has accumulated 10 cautions this season: "When you think about diving I don't believe the first player who comes to mind is me but for some reason the referees seem to like talking about it.

"Graham Poll said it and there was another referee doing an after-dinner speech who mentioned it as well. I don't know why referees feel they need to speak out and say things like that. We don't speak about them that often."

Before last week's encounter with Leicester City, Neville had scored four times in 427 first-team appearances for United and was without a goal in three seasons. Now, he is celebrating two in eight days, both achieved in similar style as he followed up his own forward pass by galloping into the opposition box before burying a first-time shot from around 10 yards.

Neville's recent strike-rate has been greeted with surprise by Ferguson and the player himself is equally stunned.

"I have never scored two in a season before, let alone two in a week," he said.

An unwanted booking aside, Neville's effort, which followed up Louis Saha's opener, allowed United to ease through the last 20 minutes, retaining some freshness for Saturday's game against Liverpool.

With the exception of Rio Ferdinand and Quinton Fortune, both long-term absentees, Ferguson could have a full-strength squad. Roy Keane returned for the final 15 minutes last night after hamstring problems, with Van Nistelrooy completing the full game following a four-match absence with a knee injury.

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