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  • By Yann Tear

Old Trafford fallout: Sanctimonious attacks get Fulham fans circling the wagons in defiance



Aleksandar Mitrovic did a bad, bad thing. Let's get that right straight away.


You do not yank the arm of a referee, whatever the provocation. Whatever the frustration felt in the moment, manhandling an official is absolute taboo. The Serb striker really should have had an in-built default to avoid such contact at all costs.


It was really poor that he was unable to show restraint when he must surely have known his actions would cost his team.

It is also hard to make a case for him feeling hard done by because of the decision to correctly award Man United a penalty and send off Willian for the handling offence which denied the home side a certain goal.


His lack of discipline will have ramifications for the rest of the season, with a 10-game ban likely.


Mitrovic can have few complaints. There has to be zero tolerance towards any aggression like that. Boss Marco Silva is also facing a touchline ban for disputing the Willian red card.


What does stick in the craw for Whites fans, however, is the suggestion, in many outlets, that this was an exceptionally malevolent act on ref Chris Kavanagh - unprecedented and particularly damaging to the game.


The Daily Mail sports writer Oliver Holt wrote: "Anger made Mitrovic and Silva look small, irrational and idiotic. Men to be pitied, not admired," adding: "Ban Mitrovic and throw the book at Silva too. They brought a fine club into disrepute on Sunday. Their behaviour was pathetic."


Paul Field the Referees' Association president, issued a statement saying: "We are sickened to witness yet another incident involving an assault on a match official.


"This time, the whole country saw what match officials risk every time they step on the field of play. We call upon the FA to take the strongest possible action for the greater good of the game."


Sickened to witness? Fulham's reputation in the mud? Such hysteria surely only invites accusations of hypocrisy. Many who recently watched Man United's 7-0 drubbing at Liverpool were probably sickened to witness the lack of action when Bruno Fernandes manhandled a linesman. And every week there is finger-pointing and unacceptable encircling of officials.


Henry Winter in the Times probably hit a fairer note when he observed: "FA will make an example of Mitrovic, but they also have to be consistent and tackle the routine hounding of officials most games.


"Refereeing standards would improve if promising young refs were not put off climbing the ladder by the abuse they endure at grass-roots level by kids imitating their elite role models."


That routine hounding of Kavanagh also included United players surrounding the official too, following Willian's goalline handling.


Many Fulham fans are also seething indignantly because while their star man gets set for a ban that could well rule him out for the rest of the season and stymie their bid to qualify for Europe next season, local rivals Brentford have a striker who faces charges of illegal betting - yet has been called up by England and continues to play.


The sense that Fulham are being unfairly vilified is very real. Their feelings of injustice will linger. But they will just have to take their medicine and ultimately agree Mitrovic made a terrible, foolhardy error of judgment.


Yet they are also right to resist the notion that the club's good name has somehow been tarnished and that what we saw was a stepping stone to the collapse of human civilisation.


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