Hughes: 'The referee forgot to look at his watch!'

Wednesday 14 April 2021 17:00

Mark Hughes has revealed his frustration with Michael Owen's famous late winner in the Manchester derby of September 2009.

The former United striker was managing Manchester City at the time, and thought his side had earned a respectable draw when Craig Bellamy made it 3-3 in the last minute of normal time.

But Hughes was left frustrated when referee Martin Atkinson allowed play to continue beyond the four minutes of injury time initially allotted.

In the 96th minute, Ryan Giggs found Owen inside the Blues' penalty area, and the ex-Liverpool striker slotted past City goalkeeper Shay Given.
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It left Sparky furious, as he explained in the latest UTD Podcast:

“Mr Atkinson, Martin Atkinson, God bless him, decided to just forget to look at his watch,” lamented Hughes.

“You kept on thinking: well he's got to blow the whistle any second now – it's all over. He'd put four [minutes] up. I think we were into seven minutes! 'What's he doing?'
“Lo and behold, Giggsy [played the pass] and you see Michael Owen in that position, you think: he's going to score. Because that's what he's done all through his career.

“So to actually lose that game when, in my view, the game was over and we'd done okay and we'd got a point... that was massive for me. Because I wanted to go up against Sir Alex [Ferguson] and – if I could – beat him. If not, the next best thing was to nick a draw at Old Trafford. But unfortunately Mr Atkinson took that away from me!”
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The match is remembered as one of the most legendary derbies of the modern era, and Hughes admitted that he can now recognise what a fantastic football match it was.

“It was a great game,” he reflected. “One of the better derbies! Clearly there was so much drama in it.

“Rio [Ferdinand] had made a mistake near the halfway line, and Craig Bellamy had carried the ball all the way and slipped it under the keeper at this end [the Scoreboard End]. You're thinking: that's it, game over. We'll take a point, and all's fair in love and war and we can shake hands and it's fine!”
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Hughes's spell at City led to some disappointment among United fans, who couldn't accept seeing their former hero attempting to further the Blue cause.

But our former no.10, who scored 163 goals for the Reds during two spells with the club, explained that his options were limited if he wanted to progress as a manager.

“If you looked at it at the time, obviously Sir Alex wasn't going anywhere,” Hughes recalled. “Arsene Wenger wasn't going anywhere. Chelsea weren't employing British managers. Liverpool... I wasn't going to Liverpool – trust me on that one!
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“So all the top clubs were all taken for the foreseeable future, and I just looked at Man City and thought, well, it's a good stadium, a good crowd, lots of fans, a big platform. I thought: okay I'll go there. It didn't really cross my mind that it might upset United fans.

“I viewed myself not as an ex-Man United player,” he continued. “I viewed myself as a professional football manager.

“If I was going to make the next step, there wasn't too many options which I felt would be better than Blackburn. The problem was that when I got there [City], it was actually a club that was at a lower level than the one I'd left. Blackburn was way above in terms of facilities and mentality as a club and the professionalism of the club at the time. I wasn't to know that until I walked in the door, to be honest.”