Alex Ferguson blasts ref over Ronaldo

Alex Ferguson demanded referees give Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo greater protection after Manchester United’s faint Premiership title hopes suffered further damage in their 2-2 draw with Birmingham City at St Andrews.

The Manchester United manager said there was a rising tide of hatred against Ronaldo being generated by supporters in England and claimed his side were the victims of the latest bout of crowd reaction as they dropped 11 points behind leaders Chelsea.

Ferguson was particularly annoyed with referee Howard Webb for failing to penalise former United midfielder Nicky Butt for a foul on Ronaldo in the build up to Birmingham’s first equaliser on Wednesday from defender Jamie Clapham.

”We are starting to have a problem with Cristiano whenever we go away from home,” Ferguson said.

”The crowds seem to boo him every time he touches the ball and referees seem to respond to that. Nicky Butt clearly fouled Cristiano in the build up to Birmingham’s first goal. Referees should do their job and not listen to the crowd, but it is a problem for us with Ronaldo.”

Clapham’s goal, his first in 92 appearances for Birmingham, cancelled out Ruud van Nistelrooy’s 17th goal of the season, but he was later substituted with a knee injury and Birmingham manager Steve Bruce was awaiting the results of scans on Thursday to determine the extent of the damage.

United have been in impressive form away from Old Trafford this season and they must have thought they had made it 25 points from a possible 27 when Wayne Rooney read van Nistelrooy’s dummy on the edge of the area and produced a powerful low shot to beat Maik Taylor eight minutes into the second-half.

But Uruguayan striker Walter Pandiani, who is believed to be the subject of a £1-million ($1,8-million) offer from Spanish side Espanyol, came off the substitutes bench as Birmingham levelled for a second time.

It was virtually his first touch and afterwards former Manchester United captain Bruce insisted that he was in no rush to sell the player he signed for £3-million ($5,4-million) from Deportivo La Coruna pre-season.

Pandiani’s former club Real Mallorca are also said to have offered £800 000 pounds ($1,44-million) for the 32-year-old, who has managed just two goals in 17 games this season.

”We have had offers, but nothing has been accepted for Walter,” said Bruce, whose side remained second-bottom despite this battling performance.

”Walter will not be leaving this club until I find suitable replacements. I want at least two strikers and at the moment we have not made any significant progress on finding them.

”Walter has had a frustrating time at the club and he has found it hard, but he scores goals. That is what I signed him for and he gave everyone a real lift when he came here last season. He has not come to me and said that he is unhappy and that he wants to leave.”

One bonus for Ferguson, despite the poor result, was the return to action of Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who played the last six minutes as a substitute.

It was the 32-year-old’s first appearance since he played in United’s 2004 FA Cup final win against Millwall at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

However, the draw brought to an end Rooney’s proud record of having finished on the winning side in every game in which he had scored for United. – Sapa-AFP

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