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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

Everton
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Sir Alex slams FA as Gerrard escapes again

Sir Alex Ferguson has begun the war of words ahead of Sunday's Premier League showdown with Liverpool by accusing the Football Association's disciplinary panel of being "dysfunctional'' after Steven Gerrard escaped censure for the second time in a matter of weeks.

• Gerrard to escape FA punishment
• Hargreaves vows to return

It comes after Rio Ferdinand was forced to accept a three-match FA ban for throwing an arm at Hull City striker Craig Fagan off the ball. Ferdinand was then handed an extra one-match ban for what was deemed to be a "frivolous'' appeal.

But Gerrard has not been so unfortunate. First, he appeared to flick a V-sign in the direction of referee Andre Marriner as Liverpool lost at Wigan, and then the England international seemingly launched an elbow towards Portsmouth's Michael Brown on Monday.

Gerrard will face no further action over either incident. Ferguson believes it smacks of double standards, with two players being treated completely differently for similar incidents.

"I didn't expect anything to happen to Steven Gerrard. It (the disciplinary panel) is a dysfunctional unit," he said. "I don't know what they are doing.''

Ferguson had already highlighted what he felt was a similar incident involving Javier Mascherano at Leeds during a Carling Cup tie earlier in the campaign.

"There is no consistency for a start and I didn't expect to get any,'' Ferguson added. "I am not too bothered about it. They can do what they want down there. It is crazy at times.''

Although he gave Rafael Benitez plenty of credit for masterminding Liverpool's challenge last term, the Scot always had a feeling it was the best that Reds team could manage.

"Sometimes you peak with a particular team and it is difficult to do it again,'' said Ferguson. "Everyone expected Liverpool to do better. But they are not. Their challenge, along with quite a few others, is to get that fourth spot, which seems to be a league of its own.''

Not that Ferguson's observations extend to any sympathy for Benitez, just an acknowledgement, in the week Phil Brown lost his job at Hull, that the management game is now a very tough one.

"The word sympathy is a bit strong,'' he said. "You feel for any manager who doesn't do well. Phil Brown was sacked during the week. Yet given the players and potential of his team, I am not sure anyone expected that Hull would be in anything other than a dog-fight this season.

"It happens every season. It is not something new.''

Ferguson certainly believes there will be no repeat of the 4-1 defeat United suffered at the hands of their old rivals in the corresponding game last term.

"Last season was a one-off,'' said Ferguson. "It won't happen again. I can assure you of that. Absolutely no chance.

"Being on top of the league at this stage of this season would make us difficult to get back at. I don't place that much importance on the 19th title. The more important one would be the 20th. This club is capable of doing that.

"We could also win four titles in a row. No-one will do that in a hurry. That is something to ponder on.''

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