Danny Hall: The only man who could stop Sheffield United's John Fleck against Manchester City was ref Chris Kavanagh - is it time for (another) change of rules?

It said a lot about the standard of John Fleck's performance against Manchester City at the Etihad that, when he was in full flight, referee Chris Kavanagh was the only man on the field who could get close enough to the Scotland midfielder to stop him.

Monday, 30th December 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 30th December 2019, 11:45 am
Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City challenges John Fleck of Sheffield Utd: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

It was unfortunate, to say the least, for both Sheffield United and Fleck himself that their man of the match's display against the reigning champions was largely overshadowed by his part in the two big moments of the game - which both went against the Blades as City ran out 2-0 winners.

First, Fleck's superb pass set Lys Mousset free to put Chris Wilder's men ahead, before VAR intervened once again and chalked it off. Then, in the second half, Fleck was blocked by Kavanagh as he looked to take control of Ollie Norwood's pass, under pressure from no-one else on the field. Kevin De Bruyne seized on the loose ball and fed Sergio Aguero to put City ahead; United's players protested vehemently but Kavanagh awarded the goal.

Even if, by the letter of the law, he was correct to do so - replays suggested Kavanagh made contact with Fleck rather than the ball, which would have resulted in a drop-ball - the whole episode felt unsatisfactory, to say the least. Should a Premier League referee have been that close to play, to influence it?

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It brought to mind memories of Graham Poll's part in Arsenal's goal in their FA Cup semi-final against United back in 2003 and perhaps it is time to re-examine, and possibly extend, the rule around referee interference for instances like this?

Wilder, understandably less than happy at the final whistle, revealed Kavanagh had invited him into his office afterwards for a private chat about the incident, while Fleck took a more reasoned view by describing an "unfortunate moment".

It'll be little consolation to anyone, but an apology to Fleck is also in order; in The Star's ratings from the Etihad, he was only given a 9/10 which has now been upgraded to 10; only the second ever given by this correspondent. Onto Anfield!

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder (right) speaks with referee Chris Kavanagh: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.