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Alarm bells sounding for Everton

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Ferguson banned for five matches

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has been suspended for five matches and handed a £30,000 fine following comments he made about referee Martin Atkinson earlier this month.

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The FA sanctions will commence on March 22, meaning Ferguson will be confined to the stands for the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester City at Wembley as well as Premier League clashes with West Ham, Fulham, Everton and, most crucially, away at Arsenal.

Premier League leaders United are just three points ahead of the Gunners, who have a game in hand.

The FA was unhappy with comments Ferguson made following a controversial 2-1 defeat at Chelsea, when the United boss said he had "feared the worst" when Atkinson was appointed match official for the Premier League clash on March 1, adding: "You want a fair referee, or a strong referee anyway - and we didn't get that."

An FA statement read: "At an independent regulatory commission today (Wednesday) Sir Alex Ferguson was handed a touchline suspension for three matches and fined a total of £30,000.

"The commission found the charge of improper conduct relating to media comments proven, following remarks made in relation to match official Martin Atkinson in post-match interviews after Manchester United's fixture with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday 1 March 2011.

"Furthermore the commission invoked a two-match suspended touchline ban, relating to a previous charge of improper conduct in relation to media comments made in October 2009. Therefore Sir Alex Ferguson was ordered to a serve a five-match touchline ban commencing on Tuesday 22 March 2011."

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

He was further upset when Chelsea were awarded what he considered a "soft" winning penalty when Yuri Zhirkov took a tumble under a challenge from United centre-back Chris Smalling.

ESPNsoccernet can reveal that the Ferguson's legal team have been promised full written reasons for the decision, which they will study before deciding on an appeal.

"I am sure Sir Alex feels that there is an FA agenda against him," a source said. "When you look at what Harry Redknapp said about collusion between the linesman and the ref, and Martinez about bias, but they 'do' Sir Alex over the word fair.

"The FA have said there can only be one interpretation over his use of the word fair, but this is a draconian penalty and you can imagine Sir Alex is not exactly swinging from the chandeliers about it.

"He might appeal, but he might just accept it and get on with it, but he's not happy about it and it has left a bitter taste."

This is the fifth time in five years that Ferguson has been charged because of comments either to or about a referee.

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