Ferguson denies FA charge
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has denied a charge of improper conduct.
Although Ferguson had until Tuesday evening to respond to the charge, brought against him following his comments about referee Martin Atkinson in the immediate aftermath of Manchester United's Premier League defeat at Chelsea on Tuesday, the 69-year-old has already confirmed to the FA he will challenge.
A personal hearing will be scheduled at a date no later than Friday, March 25. Ferguson appeared to bring Atkinson's integrity into question when he claimed "in matches like this you want a fair referee" in his post-match interview with the club's in-house television station MUTV.
The United boss went on to explain he had "feared the worst" when he discovered Atkinson was going to referee the game, having been critical of the Yorkshireman's decisions in the corresponding fixture 12 months ago, when Chelsea won through a controversial John Terry winner.
It had been suggested Ferguson would minimise any potential penalty should he accept the charge. However, the United boss also knows such an admission would trigger a two-match touchline ban that is currently suspended after he called Alan Wiley's fitness into question last season.
It means Ferguson could expect to spend a minimum of three games in the stand, something he is not prepared to accept without a fight.
Although Ferguson's defence has not been outlined it is thought he will rely heavily on the fact that he immediately appeared to backtrack on the "fair" observation, stating instead that he had hoped for a "strong" referee.
It is also likely to be claimed that in fearing the worst, Ferguson was eluding to Atkinson's ability to take charge of such a high-profile game rather than any implication of bias.
Given Atkinson failed to spot two challenges from David Luiz on Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney prior to Chelsea's winner, both of which warranted a second booking for the Brazilian, who had already been shown a yellow card, the United manager may have some success. However, should he fail the possibility is that he would serve a four-match suspension.
Ferguson will be free to sit in the dug-out at Anfield on Sunday when United tackle Liverpool, although it is not yet clear whether he would also be able to take his usual seat at Old Trafford for the FA Cup sixth-round tie with Arsenal on March 13.