Old Trafford 'brawlers' likely to escape FA action

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The Independent Football

Mark Hughes accused referee Graham Poll of believing in his own celebrity status at Old Trafford on Wednesday but unless that celebrity happens to be Superman, the Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers players involved in an alleged brawl during the contentious Carling Cup semi-final are almost certain to escape censure from the Football Association.

The FA will await Poll's match report before deciding whether to investigate an incident between Rio Ferdinand and Robbie Savage plus, perhaps, players and coaches from both sides who sprinted down the tunnel to join in the half-time mêlée. Given that Hughes, the Rovers manager, was berating the Tring official approximately 100 metres away on the half-way line when the dispute occurred, and that no clear TV footage has emerged to identify the culprits, it would require extraordinary vision on behalf of Poll to prompt any punishment.

Both clubs could still be asked to present an account of the incident by the FA but as Sir Alex Ferguson and Hughes glossed over it in their post-match analysis, hard evidence is unlikely to emerge. Ironically, Hughes could be the only person charged with improper conduct following United's 2-1 victory having criticised the referee's performance and claimed "61,000 people came to watch two teams play but Mr Poll thought they had come to see him".

Gary Neville was charged with improper conduct yesterday following his exuberant celebrations in front of Liverpool supporters at Old Trafford on Sunday. Referee Mike Riley has informed the FA that he would have booked the United captain had he witnessed the incident and the 30-year-old, who can expect a fine at worst, has until 10 February to respond.

The England defender could complete his haul of domestic honours in the Carling Cup final next month and, despite the competition's recent reputation at Old Trafford, believes a victory over Wigan would vindicate Ferguson's rebuilding programme. "I am desperate to win the trophy," he said. "Not because I am captain but purely because I play for Manchester United and that is what is expected of us."

Cristiano Ronaldo is also facing disciplinary action, this time from Uefa, who have charged the Portuguese winger with misconduct for giving Benfica supporters a one-fingered salute as he left the field during United's Champions' League exit in Lisbon last month.