There was plenty of discussion but only one major talking point to emerge from Manchester United’s Premier League victory at West Ham United on Monday evening.
Mike Dean would certainly be advised to avoid social media after brandishing the fastest red card of the season – and one of the most hotly-disputed – to Hammers midfielder Sofiane Feghouli in just the 15th minute.
The experienced referee has been caught up in a number of controversial moments which have divided opinion in recent weeks – after only booking Everton’s Ross Barkley for a reckless lunge on Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson in last month’s Merseyside derby before sending off Southampton’s Nathan Redmond and awarding Spurs a penalty for a perceived tug on Dele Alli’s shirt.
And he will no doubt be the centre of yet another media storm after opting for the most severe punishment for Feghouli, who went in for a challenge on the edge of the box with United defender Phil Jones.
Jones, who was clearly hurt and rolled over several times before receiving treatment, was booed by home fans for the rest of the game each time he touched the ball.
Feghouli lunged in after a heavy touch halted his dribbling run – but the United centre-back slid in forcefully himself.
Dean – who has handled a wealth of high-profile games and has decades of experience under his belt – appeared to turn his back to follow the play before blowing up to deal with the incident.
Some may not find it surprising to know that the Wirral-based whistler has now sent off more players (5) and awarded more penalties (10) than any other Premier League referee so far this season.
Former United captain Gary Neville, co-commentating on Sky Sports, described it as ‘a poor decision’ but doesn’t think Feghouli will have any luck by appealing the red card – yet felt it was more disappointing that Dean didn’t react positively afterwards.
He said after the game on Sky Sports: “I think it’s maybe the reaction of the Manchester United players, the reaction of Phil Jones maybe, obviously who no doubt would have taken a kick and would have been hurt by it.
“It’s a poor decision, and I actually think that the Kouyate tackle in the second half was a red card, where he goes over the top of the ball on Mkhitaryan. It’s far worse; it’s a definite leg-breaker, with his studs showing.
“Everyone thought when the red card came out, wow, because it didn’t feel like a red card moment.”
With 50,000 irate West Ham fans inside the London Stadium baying for his blood, Dean struggled to gain control and kept his cards in his pocket after Cheikhou Kouyate went in on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the second half – a challenge Neville felt was more of a red card than Feghouli’s.
And, to make matters worse, assistant referee Simon Long had a disastrous moment of his own when he failed to flag Zlatan Ibrahimovic offside for the second goal, as the Reds cashed in on their numerical advantage to record a sixth successive win and move to within a point of the top four.
However, the crucial call which killed the game as a contest came almost before the game had even got going and was the one that received the most attention – and indeed criticism – on Twitter.
Most didn’t hold back on their thoughts of the decision and Dean himself, including an interesting response from West Ham’s co-owner….
A frustrated West Ham boss Slaven Bilic – despite being evidently furious on the touchline where he remonstrated with fourth official Paul Tierney – was relatively calm after the game under the circumstances.
His assessment that the decision ‘killed’ the game is one that many will agree with but instead chose to focus on the character of his players.
There was no sympathy forthcoming from his opposite number Jose Mourinho, however.
He said: “I don’t feel sorry for West Ham – I didn’t watch the decisions. I think if you talk about decisions, we are the champions of bad decisions.”
But Sky Sports pundits Niall Quinn and Alan Smith were unimpressed and slammed Dean for the game-changing call.
“He got it disgracefully wrong in my opinion,” said Quinn. “It’s a heavy touch (from Feghouli), Jones comes running out; (Feghouli) reaches in to try and lift the ball, he doesn’t go studs-high to do Jones.
“I don’t think it’s helped the referee in his decision-making that he’s seen Jones do three rolls on the ground.
“His position in looking at what happened, I think he’s blocked a little bit by the body of Feghouli and I think he’s probably guessed a bit that he’s gone in with studs. That guess has let everybody down.
“I try very hard doing this job to understand how hard it is for referees and not just jump on the bandwagon but I’m delighted to make an exception in this case and call it rank bad refereeing.”
In his assessment of referee Dean, Smith added: “He never seems to give players the benefit of the doubt, and it’s not as if it’s an instinctive decision. He had time, he thought about it, he had a little look round.
“You don’t like to say it – I wouldn’t want to believe that of any referee – but it’s almost like he wants to be the centre of attention.”
It’s by no means the first time the official has become the centre of attention during his long and distinguished career.
In one of the most memorable moments of criticism he has received, BBC pundit Garth Crooks laid into Dean on Final Score last season and accused him of being ‘a petulant schoolteacher’ who ‘sucks the life out of games’.
The fallout may not be over yet for Dean as there may be further repercussions after the match – with footage emerging which appears to suggest he threatened West Ham’s Pedro Obiang, not long after dismissing his teammate, for ‘looking at him’.
Juan Mata converted fellow substitute Marcus Rashford’s cutback to open the scoring before the in-form Ibrahimovic benefitted from more good fortune to seal a comfortable victory for Jose Mourinho’s men late on.
But West Ham were left to rue a questionable display from the officials and another disappointing experience at their new home.
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