Physical contact is part of the game says Robson

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The Independent Online

The Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson has urged referees not to deter physical players from going about their natural game after the start to the new Premiership season produced a spate of red cards.

The Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson has urged referees not to deter physical players from going about their natural game after the start to the new Premiership season produced a spate of red cards.

Robson admitted his misgivings after Monday night's match at Highbury which saw Patrick Vieira dismissed for the second time in three days, while Gary McAllister and Dietmar Hamann also received their marching orders.

"I would be a bit concerned if what I saw last night continued," he said. "We once had a game, it was called football, and I hope people don't forget what football is and what it means.

"I'll say no more than that. Let's enjoy and let's preserve football as a game as it was. There's going to be physical contact, but as long as it's low and it's fair and honest, the ball is being played, that's all referees have to be concerned about - refereeing with their own ability and their own decision-making, their own common sense and their own intelligence, and not being afraid of anything.

"I think Vieira was unlucky. He went in very strongly and physically, but low, hard, fair, went for the ball, one foot slightly in front of the other. It's not a double chop.

"But it's very difficult for a referee to make a decision. We can say that when we've seen it three times on television, it's not as easy for the referee. But you have to be right, that's the thing."

Robson admitted that his side had been comfortably outplayed in their 2-0 defeat at Manchester United, but he is expecting more from his players against Derby County tonight at the newly-refurbished 52,000-capacity St James' Park.

Robson was particularly unhappy with the way his defence failed to learn their lesson after Shay Given pulled off a fine save from a Jaap Stam header, only for Ronny Johnsen to beat the Irishman from a similar position seconds later.

"I'm being a bit of a bore to the players when I keep on about what three seconds mean in your life," he said. "I've tried to say to them that if they go to sleep for three seconds with their foot on the brake of their Porsche, they might not come out of it alive.

"They're not slow putting their foot on the brake are they, so they have to make sure that the three seconds they have to save a goal, they're alert to it.

"If you're three seconds late driving your car, it costs you dearly, as it does in football.

"It's like putting your hand in a fire and thinking 'That was warm, I'll try that again'. You don't do that, do you?"

United's revival under their new manager after a dreadful start last season was based largely on their impressive home record, and that is again the challenge to the players.

Robson initially employed a defensive formation in an attempt to limit Sir Alex Ferguson's side, but finished with a flat back four, and it seems certain that he will start that way against Derby.

"We'll try, as we did last year, to make St James' Park a fortress," he said. "It was a difficult castle to knock over, and we have a chance to start that going again, so teams coming to St James' will know it's not going to be easy."

Injuries mean that the manager in fact has little choice, with Spanish central defender Marcelino likely to be out for three weeks with a snapped tendon in a finger, and midfielder Rob Lee struggling with a calf strain.

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