Manchester United boss Casey Stoney described the refereeing as “atrocious” in her side’s Women’s Super League defeat by Arsenal.
Jill Roord’s deflected strike off Millie Turner and Lotte Wubben-Moy’s header after the break boosted the Gunners’ Champions League qualification hopes, as they moved to within three points of third-placed United with a game in hand.
But Stoney believed her players – Lauren James in particular – were the victims of overly aggressive tackles by Arsenal and criticised referee Amy Fearn, who sent off Gunners forward Beth Mead shortly after the hour mark for a second bookable offence.
“How you can have somebody fouled and fouled and fouled and fouled and we do nothing?” Stoney told BT Sport.
“I thought the referee was atrocious at best tonight and that’s not an excuse for my team losing but we’ve got to improve the officiating in this league, we really have to because if Lauren James reacts to any of those she ends up off the pitch. She gets no protection. It’s disappointing.”
The standard of refereeing in women’s football has come under increasing scrutiny, with all officials in England’s top two divisions part-time.
Former London Bees boss Lee Burch, ex-England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis and Wales international Natasha Harding are among those to criticise officiating this season, but in February the Football Association said it had no plans to introduce full-time referees for at least three years.
Defeat all but ends United’s chances of challenging top two Chelsea and Manchester City for the WSL title as they are nine points behind the leaders with five fixtures left.
The battle for a place in the top three and a European campaign in 2021-22 now appears to be between Arsenal and Manchester United, with fifth-placed Everton 10 points behind United.
Stoney’s side dominated possession after going behind, but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal, with teenager James guilty of missing the best chance when she blasted over from just inside the box.
Wubben-Moy’s thumping header early in the second half gave the Gunners a cushion before Mead’s second yellow card for a lunge on Lucy Staniforth made for a nervy final 30 minutes.
Arsenal’s next match is the north London derby against Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, 27 March, while Manchester United host struggling West Ham on the same day.
- 13WältiBooked at 79mins
- 15McCabeBooked at 31mins
- 10LittleSubstituted forPattenat 86′minutes
- 14RoordSubstituted forGutat 82′minutes
- 7van de DonkSubstituted forNobbsat 86′minutes
- 9MeadBooked at 62mins
- 11MiedemaSubstituted forEvansat 90+1′minutes
Man Utd Women
- 14GroenenSubstituted forLaddat 82′minutes
- 16JamesSubstituted forSigsworthat 62′minutes
Match ends, Arsenal Women 2, Manchester United Women 0.
Second Half ends, Arsenal Women 2, Manchester United Women 0.
Attempt blocked. Ella Toone (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Lucy Staniforth (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Charlotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal Women).
Attempt blocked. Lucy Staniforth (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ella Toone.
Substitution, Arsenal Women. Lisa Evans replaces Vivianne Miedema.
Corner, Arsenal Women. Conceded by Katie Zelem.
Attempt blocked. Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal Women) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Corner, Arsenal Women. Conceded by Amy Turner.
Substitution, Arsenal Women. Jordan Nobbs replaces Daniëlle van de Donk.
Substitution, Arsenal Women. Anna Patten replaces Kim Little.
Attempt missed. Katie Zelem (Manchester United Women) right footed shot from the right side of the box is too high.
Attempt saved. Vivianne Miedema (Arsenal Women) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Caitlin Foord.
Substitution, Arsenal Women. Malin Gut replaces Jill Roord.
Substitution, Manchester United Women. Hayley Ladd replaces Jackie Groenen.
Offside, Manchester United Women. Jessica Sigsworth tries a through ball, but Ella Toone is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Jessica Sigsworth (Manchester United Women) header from the centre of the box is blocked.
Lia Wälti (Arsenal Women) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.