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Ferguson to contest FA charge

Sir Alex Ferguson has decided to contest an FA charge of improper conduct relating to comments directed at referee Martin Atkinson following Manchester United's defeat to Chelsea.

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Although Ferguson had until Tuesday evening to respond, the 69-year-old has already decided he will challenge. A personal hearing will be scheduled at a date no later than Friday, March 25.

The United boss was left fuming at Atkinson's failure to dismiss Chelsea goalscorer David Luiz during Tuesday night's 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge for clear fouls on Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney after the Brazilian had already been booked.

To compound that frustration, Atkinson then awarded Chelsea what Ferguson considered a ''soft'' penalty when Yuri Zhirkov fell under Chris Smalling's challenge.

Although Ferguson's comments to host broadcaster Sky Sports are not thought to have overstepped the mark, those to United's in-house TV station MUTV have caused concern.

''You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway - and we didn't get that,'' said Ferguson. ''I must say, when I saw who the referee was I feared it. I feared the worst.''

The Football Association asked MUTV for footage of the interview to check the context in which Ferguson delivered the words. And, even though he immediately soften his stance, altering the word 'fair' to 'strong', disciplinary chiefs felt there was sufficient malice to warrant a charge.

Ferguson already has two matches of a four-game ban still hanging over him following his ill-advised comments about Alan Wiley last season, when he implied the official was not fit enough for his job.

Those games will be triggered if guilt is established, which - if a hearing was arranged before the end of next week - would condemn him to the stands for United's FA Cup sixth-round tie with Arsenal at Old Trafford on March 12, plus the Premier League encounter with Bolton seven days later.

Punishment for his latest indiscretion would be added on, which means Ferguson could expect to spend a minimum of three games in the stand.


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