At the start of any big game a footballer will want an early touch of the ball to settle those pre-match nerves.

The same could be said of referees, who would want to begin their afternoon’s officiating by blowing up for a innocuous trip or shirt pull on the halfway line, nothing major – just something to wet his whistle so to speak.

But that is exactly what Phil Dowd didn’t get on Sunday, and his reaction hung over the rest of the game like a bad smell.

In reflection he has had a bit of a shocker.

Gabriel Agbonlahor was clean through on goal, no argument, and was brought down by Vidic in the area before he could shoot.

I could perhaps understand Dowd’s thinking in not showing the red card – common sense, not ruining the spectacle and all that, even though that is being very kind to the Serbian.

But by not even booking him the referee created a uncomfortable rod for his own back for the rest of the game – not least when he booked James Collins a few minutes later for taking out Michael Owen when he was about to burst clear on goal.

Every foul for the rest of the match was compared to Vidic’s challenge, evidence that inconsistent refereeing – rather than over-lenient or over-officious whistle blowing – is the thing that infuriates players and fans the most.

Other than that the game followed a predictable pattern.

People began talking about Michael Owen for England again when he bagged the equaliser (he only needs one chance, he would be a great substitute etc….) but when   another opportunity fell his way a few minutes later his dodgy hamstring gave way again.

This meant Wayne “too important-for-the Carling-Cup-final” Rooney came on to the field 40 minutes too early.

He once again lived up to the billing and was United’s match-winner once more. England are third favourites in the World Cup betting and Rooney will need to be at his very best if the side are to win the competition.

Villa will be disappointed that they didn’t build on their early advantage, they seemed to freeze on the big occasion an failed to really carve out any chances – United held them at arms length all game.

And while they have every right to feel aggrieved about Dowd’s performance, it shouldn’t be allowed to disguise another deserved Big Four cup victory.

Meanwhile, in horse racing news many pundits still feel Denman would be a good Cheltenham bet despite unseating his rider during his last outing.

The horse will go up against Kauto Star in the Gold Cup.

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