LONDON • Slaven Bilic lamented the early red card shown to Sofiane Feghouli in West Ham's 2-0 home defeat by Manchester United on Monday and said that Phil Jones would have been a more suitable target for punishment.
The Algeria midfielder was dismissed by the referee Mike Dean in the 15th minute after what had seemed a fair challenge with Jones, who won the ball but was caught afterwards by the follow-through.
There was no suggestion of malicious intent but Dean chose to take the most severe action for a perceived offence that the West Ham manager - an uncomprehending figure on the touchline at the time - did not feel merited even a booking.
"I was very surprised," Bilic said of the decision. "You know me, I'm the first one who says (referees) have a difficult job, and every time we look at a slow motion I go, 'Yeah, they don't have that in real time.'
"But I said it then - I wouldn't have been happy with a yellow. I said it to the fourth official and to (Jose) Mourinho, it's not a yellow.
"If it was yellow I'd be asking: 'Why a yellow so early in the game for basically nothing?' And you have to know it's Feghouli - he very rarely makes a foul."
Bilic did not see a replay of the incident until after full-time and suggested that Jones, who appeared to be hurt, was deflecting attention from his own misjudgment.
"After the game, when I saw it, it gave me proof that I'm right," he said. "The more times I've seen it, it's the other way round. It was Jones who made a more dangerous tackle than Feghouli, like a scissor."
Former Premier League referee Howard Webb, writing in The Times, London, noted: "Jones stretches in the direction of the ball, with his left leg tucked up. He doesn't leave the ground, whereas Feghouli jumps in and gets there late. However, his studs are down, his legs are bent and he doesn't lead with two feet, so for those reasons I think it should have been a yellow.
"But I wouldn't want to castigate Mike for making the decision he did - at full speed it looks worse. When a player leaves the ground like that and makes late and heavy contact he is going to risk getting sent off."
Bilic confirmed that West Ham will appeal against the decision, saying he expected a resolution in his club's favour and that he would be "gutted" to lose Feghouli for Friday's FA Cup third-round tie against Manchester City and upcoming Premier League games against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough.
West Ham had started brightly and, even though they still created chances to take the lead with 10 men, losing a player fundamentally altered their approach.
"Of course the decision had an impact, so early," he said. "I won't say it killed us because we continued to play well, but it had a major impact on the game that prevented us from hurting them more."
Actually Dean's decision-making did not improve and, a minute after dismissing Feghouli, he opted against showing a yellow card to United's Jesse Lingard after the winger was extremely late on Cheikhou Kouyate.
Dean was less lenient towards West Ham's Dimitri Payet, who was booked for dissent after the France midfielder offered an unfavourable review of the referee's performance not long before the interval.
To compound Bilic's seething sense of injustice, three United players, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic were offside in the build-up to the Swedish striker's 18th goal of the season - after Juan Mata had opened the scoring.
Mourinho claimed not to have a view, given that he had not seen the red card incident, again but conceded that United did not play well.
He is not ruling his side out of the title race however, despite them trailing Chelsea by 10 points. "Step by step we try to win our matches. After Tottenham v Chelsea somebody will lose or both will lose two points."
THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE