Villa consider complaint over Agbonlahor spat

Referee tells FA he would not have dismissed player for spat with Villa striker.
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The Football Association will not be charging Newcastle United's Joey Barton over his spat with Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor during Monday's night's match at St James' Park after referee Steve Bennett reviewed video evidence and decided that he would not have sent off Barton for his raised hand in Agbonlahor's face. Bennett had not seen the incident at the time.

Barton's six-game suspended punishment for the Ousmane Dabo assault was not activated yesterday therefore, but Villa could yet make a complaint to the FA over Barton's behaviour and that would alter matters.

Villa were yesterday said to be considering their options before they head to Prague today for their Uefa Cup tie tomorrow. Agbonlahor told his manager, Martin O'Neill, that "something happened" on Monday.

However, the FA, while aware of speculation regarding a possible complaint from Aston Villa, will not act until one is received.

Barton was caught by Agbonlahor in a collision at the Gallowgate End in the first half and then was seen to jab a finger at Agbonlahor in the Newcastle penalty-area seconds later. Words were exchanged between the two.

But Barton said yesterday: "We shook hands after the game, and that's the way it is. It was all about nothing. Nothing has gone on, and people are making a mountain out of a molehill.

"With the referee, linesmen and their assistant around, and all the television cameras, you know you can't raise your hands these days, and at no stage have I done that. I'm going home with a clear conscience.

"He was going on and on, and all I said to him was to be quiet and let his feet do the talking. That was it."

Barton was later booked by Bennett for a studs-up challenge on Luke Young but Barton defended himself in that instance, too. "The ball is there to be won," he said, "and I'm going to contest it. This is a part of my game."

Newcastle will welcome Bennett's review and hope the club is free to focus on Fulham on Sunday. As Michael Owen wrote in the programme on Monday: "It would be nice to just have one season where the off-the-field distractions that seem to follow the club didn't happen. But we still have the FA Cup to go for and there are an awful lot of important points to be played for over the rest of the season.

"You start off the season full of optimism but unfortunately a lot of our optimism was dashed quite early on this season." Owen came on for a few seconds on Monday and said of his injury: "Hopefully I can get back into it quickly. And it's always nice coming back into a team that has won a game or two."

Monday night's three points enabled the club to leap out of the relegation zone and should in theory aid the process of selling the club. It is seven-and-a-half weeks since owner Mike Ashley put Newcastle up for sale.

Yesterday, Keith Harris of the bankers, Seymour Pierce, who are handling the sale, said that "two very serious contenders" have emerged to buy the club. The figure of two means that the "seven" bidders mentioned a fortnight ago has been whittled down.

"It is not easy doing anything in this world whether it's selling a football club or anything else," Harris said, "but it will come through. It's not been a question of dropping the price. Mike wants to get a maximum price but he also wants to make sure that it goes into hands that will look after it and nurture it for the future."