Turn back the clock to Leeds United’s Premiership clash with Manchester United at Elland Road in March 2001.
The Red Devils dominance in the Premiership was overwhelming enough without the assistance given to them by referee Graham Barber at Elland Road.
The Hertfordshire official took an unduly lenient view of a stamp by goalkeeper Fabien Barthez on Leeds defender Ian Harte in first half injury-time, the crucial moment in a pulsating game.
To the intense anger of a capacity crowd. Barthez was booked and remained on the field. Moments later, he saved the resulting penalty from Harte.
Barber saw a foul where many others saw a far more severe offence.
“There is tolerance and then there is blissful ignorance of the type preferred by sand-immersed ostriches,” wrote Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Phil Rostron. “Barber – so crassly at odds with common sense – clearly has a long neck and a penchant for beaches.”
Even Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s manager, admitted to Barthez’s good luck. “I don’t know if the ref saw it but if Fabien has kicked out then it’s a sending off,” said Ferguson. “We needed a strong referee.”
Lucas Radebe, the Leeds captain, was more scathing in his criticism of Barber. “Maybe it’s a case of one rule for them (Manchester United) and one rule for everyone else,” Radebe said.
“Officials might be a little bit intimidated by them because of their reputation and what they’ve achieved.”
Barthez’s yellow card and his subsequent reaction to Harte’s penalty was worth a crucial point to Manchester United, protecting their strong position at the top of the Premiership.
Luke Chadwick opened the scoring for the visitors midway through the second half but Ferguson could not deny that Leeds had deserved Mark Viduka’s late equaliser.
The Australian striker timed his run perfectly to meet a cross from Danny Mills with a glancing header, beating Barthez at his far post just when the game appeared to be lost for the Whites.
“We tried to win and we deserved to win,” said Leeds boss David O’Leary. “We were the better side and Barthez shouldn’t have been on the pitch to save that penalty.”
The Irishman was no less annoyed by the absence of an offside flag when Chadwick struck in the 64th minute. Paul Scholes picked out Ole Solskjaer whose shot drew a parry from Nigel Martyn and Chadwick appeared two yards from goal to drive the ball into the net.
“The linesman gifted them that,” O’Leary complained.
O’Leary had replaced Dominic Matteo and Robbie Keane with Harry Kewell and Alan Smith at half-time – an attempt to gain control of a fixture that was evenly balanced after Harte’s missed penalty – but Chadwick’s finish forced Leeds to chase the game.
Smith’s 78th-minute shot brought a fine save from Barthez and a volley from Kewell tested the Frenchman’s reflexes again, but he had no answer to Viduka’s clinical header.
“For all the pressure they had, they never really looked like breaking us down,” said Ferguson, overlooking the regularity of Barthez’s involvement. “A draw was a fair result.”
United: Martyn, Mills, Ferdinand, Radebe, Harte, Bowyer, Batty, Dacourt, Matteo (Kewell 46), Keane (Smith 46), Viduka. Subs (not used): Kelly, Robinson, Bakke.