Ferguson risks increased ban
Sir Alex Ferguson is risking an increased penalty by challenging the Football Association's improper conduct charge.
The FA have confirmed a hearing will be held before March 25 to examine Ferguson's comments about referee Martin Atkinson immediately after Tuesday's Barclays Premier League encounter with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
With a two-match touchline ban already hanging over him following critical comments about Alan Wiley's fitness last season, Ferguson knows the punishment could be severe if he cannot clear his name.
However, senior figures inside Old Trafford are convinced Ferguson is in part suffering because of the inability to apply sanctions against Wayne Rooney following his elbowing of James McCarthy at Wigan last weekend.
They are convinced Ferguson's words alone in a post-match interview with MUTV at Stamford Bridge are not worthy of the charge that has been brought. 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.
Although Ferguson's defence has not been outlined it is thought he will rely heavily on the fact that he immediately appeared to back-track 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 could have resulted in a second booking for the Brazilian, the United manager may have some success.
However, should he fail the possibility is that he would serve a four-match suspension.