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Tuesday, March 9, 1999 Published at 16:11 GMT


All eyes on the referee

Paul Durkin: Under fire from Alex Ferguson

Referee Paul Durkin will again be under the spotlight during Wednesday's FA Cup quarter-final replay between Chelsea and Manchester United - after controversially sending off two players during the goalless clash between the teams on Sunday.

Durkin was branded 'card happy' for dismissing Chelsea's Roberto Di Matteo and United's Paul Scholes during the match and was also at the centre of the furore involving Graeme Le Saux and Liverpool's Robbie Fowler at the end of last month.


[ image: Alex Ferguson: 'Durkin's test will come on Wednesday']
Alex Ferguson: 'Durkin's test will come on Wednesday'
United manager, Alex Ferguson has raised the pressure on Durkin ahead of the replay by claiming the match will be a huge test for the FIFA official.

"It will be a different game at Chelsea on Wednesday and it will need to be handled well," Ferguson said.

"The referee is probably the best referee in the country and I would have thought he would have used his experience more. His test will come on Wednesday."

Frustration for Ferguson

This season's FA Cup seems to be doing its best to distract Ferguson from what is surely his primary objective - winning the European Cup.

So far, United - who take a 2-0 lead to Italy next week for the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final against Inter Milan - have been drawn against Middlesbrough and Liverpool, second division high-flyers Fulham as well as title rivals Chelsea.


[ image: Paul Scholes gets his marching orders]
Paul Scholes gets his marching orders
Against Chelsea last Sunday, Ferguson rested his first-choice strike force of Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, a move which backfired as Chelsea held out for a replay that neither club wanted.

Now the two sides have had to postpone important English Premiership matches - United at Liverpool, Chelsea at Middlesbrough - to fit in Wednesday's replay for the right to play holders Arsenal in the semi-finals, arguably the toughest draw of all.

"We've had Liverpool and Middlesbrough and if we get through against Chelsea then we've got Arsenal," said Ferguson. "You can't ask for a harder game than that.

"All the top sides will be involved and it will be either Chelsea or ourselves playing Arsenal, which should be a fantastic semi-final.

Good record

Ferguson can take heart from United's fine record at Stamford Bridge and they have lost just three of their last 18 visits in all competitions. Last year they won a 5-3 thriller in the FA Cup third round there.

But whoever triumphs on Wednesday - and there will be extra-time and penalties to decide the outcome if necessary - both managers believe Arsenal, who can draw level with Chelsea by seeing off Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night, are the real winners.

Chelsea manager, Gianluca Vialli, said: "I think both teams could have done without another match at this stage of the season.

"In the end, the winners are probably Arsenal."

Ferguson agreed, saying: "Arsenal are probably favourites for the league now."

Dutchman Jaap Stam returns from suspension for United and Ferguson will also be able to call upon Ryan Giggs, who was sidelined on Sunday as he recovered from a broken nose and black eye.

Chelsea welcome back Nigerian Celestine Babayaro, Frenchman Frank Leboeuf, feisty midfielder Dennis Wise and defender Michael Duberry.

Babayaro, Wise and Leboeuf are back from suspension, while Duberry should be fit following an injury. Vialli is still banned.



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