Half-time and as well as being a goal down Liverpool find themselves down to ten men against United’s twelve. It’s an age-old complaint from football supporters, but this referee is one of the worst in the game.
Liverpool have hardly been at the races in the game, Reina in particular has looked out of sorts and has to accept some of the blame for Wes Brown’s opener. United looked most likely to score first, United’s Van der Sar a spectator for the first half. What he could see from his goal were errors from Reina including throwing the ball to an opponent 25 yards out, and almost knocking the ball into his own net when a Giggs cross seemed to confuse him. He did seem to have the sun in his eyes for this first half, but that’s hardly an excuse for what has been one of his worst games in a Liverpool shirt.
The game started in a typical North West derby fashion, if anything a little less high-speed than normal. Wayne Rooney had a case for a penalty when another off-colour player – Jamie Carragher – lunged for the ball in the box and although contact with Rooney was minimal, contact with the ball was non-existent. Rooney stayed on his feet and his shot was blocked by Reina, but given Bennett’s performance from then on it’s a shock he didn’t give the Manchester side the penalty anyway.
On 11 minutes Bennett made it clear, it seemed, he wasn’t going to give any room for error. Mascherano went to ground in an attempt to win the ball from Paul Scholes, and his booking was harsh. In itself it certainly wasn’t the worst tackle of the game so far, possibly Mascherano’s first foul, and in games like this suggested the referee’s book was going to be full by the end of the game.
Yet that idea seemed unlikely given the way Bennett treated the rest of the half. Foul after foul was committed by Manchester United, foul after foul that went unpunished. For some bizarre and frankly inexplicable or justifiable reason Bennett instead chose to pull Anderson and Vidic to one side for a talking to rather than book them for fouls that were as bad as Mascherano’s had been earlier.
The obvious imbalance in approach to the two sides was riling Mascherano, who complained to Bennett more than once. Not in a violent or aggressive way, but with a smile on his face asking why this was happening. Bennett, ever the centre of attention in games he referees, had no intention of explaining. His arrogance is exactly why referees get such a bad name.
As the half went on and United had got a goal that was always coming, Liverpool needed a half-time team talk urging them to make more of an effort and show their true abilities. Perhaps a change would be in order, if not on half-time itself then in the first fifteen minutes of the second half.
All of that went out of the window when the referee proved his arrogance and his ego were going to be the subject of headlines tomorrow. As the half came to a close Fernando Torres was once again fouled. The referee gave the foul, but yet again allowed the United player to get away without a booking. Torres was booked for asking why the fouls were allowed to continue unpunished. It was no surprise to see Mascherano come towards the referee to ask once again – if he was booked for a minor challenge on 11 minutes, clearly impeding his impact on the game, why were United players getting away with so much? He was sent off for asking, the referee deciding this was dissent and giving him a second yellow.
Whether Liverpool would have come out for the second half with the necessary fight added to their approach in order to get something from the game or not is irrelevant now. Bennett was never popular with United after sending off Ronaldo twice in the past, but his performances in Liverpool matches have never been lacking in controversy. Clearly unable to rise above the mind-games tried by Ferguson in the press this week, this referee ought to be suspended until he learns to put his ego and his arrogance to one side. He’s not biased to one side over another – just feels his name should be in the body of all match reports rather than mentioned at the bottom.
Manchester United: 1 Van der Sar, 6 Brown, 5 Ferdinand, 15 Vidic, 3 Evra, 7 Ronaldo, 18 Scholes, 16 Carrick, 8 Anderson, 11 Giggs, 10 Rooney
Subs: 29 Kuszczak, 4 Hargreaves, 17 Nani, 22 O’Shea, 32 Tevez
Booked: As if!
Goals: Brown 34
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 12 Aurelio, 20 Mascherano, 14 Alonso, 18 Kuyt, 8 Gerrard, 19 Babel, 9 Torres
Subs: 30 Itandje, 4 Hyypia, 6 Riise, 11 Benayoun, 15 Crouch
Booked: Mascherano 11, Torres 44
Sent-off: Mascherano 44
Referee: Steve Bennett