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Sir Alex Ferguson set to appeal against FA charge

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Ferguson criticised Atkinson after his side's loss to their title rivals

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will appeal against a Football Association charge of improper conduct.

The Old Trafford boss said he had "feared the worst" when referee Martin Atkinson was appointed for Tuesday's game with Chelsea, which United lost.

Ferguson added on MUTV: "You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway - and we didn't get that."

The United boss has denied the charge and will have a personal hearing at a date no later than 25 March.

The Scot also has two matches of a four-game ban from last season hanging over him after remarks about referee Alan Wiley.

And lawyer Guy Thomas predicted that Ferguson would have a difficult task defending the improper conduct charge.

"Given the low bar set by the regulations, once someone is charged with an offence like this then the defences available are narrow," Thomas of SA Law told BBC Sport.

"Given his words at the time, Ferguson's defence seems to be restricted to trying to bring in later, more consolatory language, presumably stressing that the first part should not be taken out of context."

Ferguson was angry over Atkinson's failure to dismiss Chelsea defender David Luiz for fouls on Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney after he had already been booked.

He was further upset when Chelsea were awarded what he considered a "soft" penalty when Yuri Zhirkov fell under the challenge of Chris Smalling.

If Ferguson's suspended ban is triggered, he will be suspended from the touchline for United's FA Cup sixth-round tie with Arsenal at Old Trafford on 12 March and the Premier League game with Bolton a week later and then whatever extra games - if any - are added on for his latest outburst.

United's loss at Stamford Bridge pegged their lead over Arsenal back to four points, with the Gunners having played a game less.

Arsenal could close the gap to one point with a home win over Sunderland on Saturday, with Ferguson's team playing Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

Ferguson cancelled his customary pre-match news conference on Friday, in which he would have been expected to talk about Sunday's Premier League match against Liverpool.

Atkinson has refereed 13 Premier League matches involving Chelsea since the 2006/07 season with the London side winning 12 and drawing one, including two victories over Manchester United and one over Liverpool.

Meanwhile in France, the French Football Federation will replace all referees for first-division matches this weekend after the refereeing union vowed to start each match 15 minutes late in protest at recent criticism from players, managers and television pundits.

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see also
Ferguson ref rant 'unacceptable'
03 Mar 11 |  Man Utd
Ref boss demands Ferguson apology
03 Mar 11 |  Football
Chelsea 2-1 Man Utd
01 Mar 11 |  Premier League
Ferguson angry at ref after loss
01 Mar 11 |  Premier League
Rooney escapes FA ban over clash
28 Feb 11 |  Man Utd
Referees in the spotlight
10 Feb 11 |  Football

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