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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
You have to take your consolations where you can in life. On an evening when he was bellowed at by Southampton's manager Jan Poortvliet and widely abused by over 30,000 home fans, Mike Riley should draw solace from the fact that he lives in Leeds, some 205 miles away from the St Mary's Stadium because after this performance he won't be welcome back for a while. The crescendo of boos and catcalls that marked his exit from the pitch at full-time were inevitable, but rather unfortunate. Riley's most important decision, the dismissal of Matthew Paterson, was absolutely correct. It was just all the others that let him down.

Riley has long been perceived to have something of a bias for Manchester United, a view that isn't entirely supported by the facts. In just two afternoons of officiating them this season, he has handed them ten yellow cards, with only one going in the opposite direction. If that's evidence that he's a closet Red, I'd love to know what he does to teams he dislikes. You won't find many Southampton fans that agree with that appraisal though and it's because of a two minute period that snuffed out any lingering hopes of an upset.

Johnny Evans was in the process of tidying up outside his own area when he seemed to slip and lose control of the ball. Saints' forward David McGoldrick nipped in and Evans took immediate action, cynically bringing him down. The yellow card that followed wasn't deemed harsh enough by the home fans who hadn't noticed, or perhaps hadn't wanted to notice, the two United defenders tracking back. Then, at the other end of the pitch, young Paterson hurled himself into Nemanja Vidic's shin with his studs flashing under the floodlights. It might not have been a red card a few years ago, but as John Terry found out just before Christmas, it certainly is now. Riley was followed down the tunnel at the break by an incandescent Poortvliet who, if he thought he couldn't possibly be any angrier, was about to be proved very wrong. Riley's decision to award a penalty when Nani's free-kick hit McGoldrick in the back of the head showed him the true depth of his own emotions.

Unfortunately for similarly raging Southampton fans, the truth was United had taken control of the game before Riley's performance started to wobble. The underdogs enjoyed a bright start, but Danny Welbeck's close range opener had robbed them of their confidence and only an inspired performance from goalkeeper Kelvin Davies was keeping the score down. Even after Nani's penalty, the Premier League champions never got out of second gear and seemed happier just to knock the ball about, slowly draining their opponents. It was men against boys, quite literally given that six of the Southampton side hadn't even been born when Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Old Trafford.

United will now face Tottenham at home in the 4th round of the FA Cup, a very winnable tie for a team with such a deep squad. Ferguson was delighted to see two of his own youngsters on the scoresheet, the third goal coming from midfielder Darren Gibson, and if any team can survive the rigours of four separate campaigns for silverware, it's United. For Southampton, the future is less encouraging. Penniless and forced to sell their best players, their attention will shift to the relegation dogfight at the bottom of the Championship. Rightly or wrongly, the Saints' supporters will be hoping that they can fight that particular battle without the involvement of a certain referee from Leeds...

Crowd: 31,901
Yellow Cards: Skacel, James (Southampton), Evans, O'Shea (Man Utd)
Red Cards: Paterson (Southampton)
Kelvin Davies 8, Chris Parry 7, Oliver Lancashire 6, Rudi Skacel 6, Ryan Smith 6 (Lee Holmes 6, 70th), Simon Gillett 6, (Morgan Schneiderlin 6, 55th), Andrew Surman 6, Lloyd James 6, Oscar Gobern 6 (Kayne McLaggon 6, 55th), David McGoldrick 6, Matthew Paterson 5
Manchester United:
Edwin van der Sar 6, John O'Shea 7, Gary Neville 7, Nemanja Vidic 7, Jonathan Evans 6, Michael Carrick 7 (Darren Gibson 7, 55th), Ryan Giggs 6 (Rodrigo Possebon 6, 55th), Nani 7, Anderson 7, Dimitar Berbatov 8, Danny Welbeck 7 (Wayne Rooney 7, 64th)