Kinnear had backed Hart

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The Independent Online

While the Football Association waits for Robbie Hart's report on Joe Kinnear's sending off, the Independent has learned that the Wimbledon manager's public criticism of referees does not match his official verdict. Of the 29 reports Kinnear has submitted to the FA this season, he has marked referees as "very good" or "good" on 22 occasions.

After Hart had dismissed Alan Kimble for encroaching at a corner - his second bookable offence - against Manchester United on Tuesday, Kinnear described the Darlington official as one of the worst in the league. He added that poor refereeing was costing managers their jobs and that he was alone in calling for better standards.

Apart from the "good" or "very good" grades that Kinnear has given in his reports, four referees, including Hart, were graded as "satisfactory". Only three referees were marked as "less than average" or "unsatisfactory", the two categories which gives the FA cause for concern. Kinnear even marked Hart as "very good" when he ran their defeat to Nottingham Forest on 17 October.

Although Premiership referees have received fierce criticism this season and many in the game believe standards have fallen, their marks from managers are not noticeably worse than for last season.

What has been a problem is the inconsistency of approach between referees who follow the letter of the law, and those who follow what they see as its spirit. There is a considerable discrepancy in the number of bookings and sending-offs between the two groups.

Few officials would have booked Kimble and too many do appear to favour the larger clubs - another of Kinnear's criticisms.

The FA has yet to receive Kinnear's report on Hart for Tuesday. The Wimbledon manager, who has banned himself from the touchline, is expected to be charged with bringing the game into disrepute for his actions that night. The hearing will be combined with the one already planned - but not scheduled - to deal with the "cheat" accusation he levelled at Mike Reed after Wimbledon's match at Newcastle in January.

Brian Little last night paid £900,000 to make Alan Wright, the Blackburn defender, his fifth signing for Aston Villa since succeeding Ron Atkinson as manager in November. Wright was Kenny Dalglish's first buy for Blackburn when he joined from Blackpool for £400,000 in 1991, but lost his left- back place to Graeme Le Saux.

Neither FA Cup semi-final will be played at Wembley Stadium this season, the FA has decided. Four years after the venue for the final was extended to Tottenham's meeting with Arsenal in the last four for the first time, Cup tradition has reasserted itself.

This year, the games will be held at more customary venues such as Villa Park, Highbury and Old Trafford depending on who wins this weekend's quarter- finals. Both games will be televised live on Sunday 9 April.

Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, said he was mystified yesterday by Andrei Kanchelskis's assertion that he was being forced out of Old Trafford. "I don't know what he's talking about," he said. "I can't help wondering if this isn't part of a preconceived plan by Andrei to force our hand and transfer him. If that's the case it won't work."

On a day of denials at Old Trafford, Ferguson also played down reports he will retire in 1997 when his contract expires. "I will be considering my role then," he said, "but there is no way I would retire. I certainly want to finish here, that's for sure."