A NEW SURFACE PLEASE
It was obvious as soon as Diego Forlan's 92nd-minute winner hit the back of the net: last Saturday's match between Manchester United and Chelsea should never have been allowed to go ahead.
Did you see the state of that Old Trafford pitch? Almost completely bare of grass and deeply rutted, it had apparently recently hosted an international tractor rally. Nothing less than a full inquiry, leading to an instruction to United to replay the game on grass, and continue replaying it until Chelsea come away with at least the point they earned last weekend, will be acceptable.
Not being Charlton Athletic, Chelsea have swallowed defeat with dignity. But it makes sense to ask on their behalf: were they given any prior warning of the condition of that surface? Because it was the kind of thing that could have affected tactics and team selection, not to mention choice of footwear.
And there was worse. Not content with preparing a pitch which favoured their unsubtle, knock-it-up-to-the-Dutch-bloke, long-ball game, United had further tilted the afternoon in their favour by redecorating the home team benches - but not quite getting round to doing the away ones.
Thus United's technical area was freshly refurbished, on this bitter day, with a carpet and a heater. We could not confirm the rumour that the refitting had also supplied a tartan rug for the knees of Sir Alex Ferguson, 61. What we do know is that, in the weasel words of a United administrator: "Unfortunately, there wasn't time to do the Chelsea one."
This is skulduggery of the lowest order and had a very real effect on the game's outcome. The match hinged on substitutions. When Chelsea brought on Boudewijn Zenden, in an attempt to close the game down with nine minutes to go, he was so cold that parts of him that weren't his kit were blue.
Meanwhile the assassin Forlan, whose critical entry into the game came after 71 minutes, had spent the afternoon gently toasting his thighs on a radiator. Clearly it's the same old story where Manchester United are concerned. It's one rule for them, and no rug for Claudio Ranieri. Very poor show.
The latest pitch will be laid this week and hopefully will last until the end of the season.