Manchester United had to take the rough with the smooth in their recent Premier League draw with West Ham United, as the Red Devils took another small step towards reclaiming the league title—though not with the three points they wanted.
In addition to the small matter of four goals during the 90 minutes of the 2-2 draw, there were several contentious incidents which took place on the field, plenty of which involved Hammers striker Andy Carroll.
Carroll indeed set up the opening goal with a knockdown for Ricardo Vaz Te, before Antonio Valencia equalised. Mohamed Diame curled a beautiful second West Ham goal, only for Robin van Persie to level matters up once more—from a clearly offside position.
That was far from the only moment of controversy in the game, though, with Carroll coming under fire for some roughhouse challenges on both Wayne Rooney and David de Gea.
He also appeared to catch United defender Nemanja Vidic with a flailing arm as the duo clashed in an aerial battle.
United manager Alex Ferguson was clearly unimpressed with the striker's physical efforts and called for him to have been sent off (via Telegraph). But is there too much being made of what was really a series of robust but fair challenges?
In the case of Carroll's elbow colliding with Vidic, is there a case to argue that the striker should have seen red?
Officials are trying to mete out fair punishment for dangerous play, and rightly so. But there is a line, blurred and indistinguishable at times, between an act which endangers a fellow player and one which simply causes a clash or a coming together—even a heavy one.
Football remains, just about, a contact sport, and defenders and forwards provide one of the biggest and most consistent physical battles to occur during the 90 minutes. Few eyebrows are raised when a defender clatters through the back of a forward—He was just letting him know he's there; a proper old-fashioned defender's tackle; a no-nonsense kind of player—so should the beefy, muscular centre-backs be shown any kind of compassion when they come up against one of their own?
It's one thing trying to keep tabs on a speedy, movement-oriented striker like Jermain Defoe, but what about when the battering ram known as Andy Carroll keeps coming back for more? And dishes out more than the defender?
This aerial battle between Carroll and Vidic is about one thing only: winning the ball.
Eyes are firmly on the ball from both players, and both have arms outstretched for leverage over the other. Carroll jumps higher than Vidic and clatters him with his elbow, but note that Vidic is hardly restraining himself from similarly being all pointed bones and angles.
Indeed, Vidic's elbow is thrust out at around Carroll's chest area; had the forward not jumped into the challenge, that elbow would have been in his face. But it wasn't, because this was a simple, honest, committed battle between two players, intent on winning the ball.
Vidic took one in the face. It happens. Nobody likes to see it happen, but football is a game full of challenges, mental and physical.
Nobody from the United camp will be crying out for a card if a defender who goes into a tackle and takes the ball, the man and the first three rows of the stand, because that's the kind of player he is. The will to win is built right in, and it will take a battering, withstand it, and come again.
Deliberate elbows, intent to hurt, and even stopping opponents getting the ball when a player has no intent of winning it himself—those things are punished, and rightly so.
But this challenge? There's nothing of the sort here. On with the game, lads.