The Old Trafford time warp and other science fictions(Guardian)
Time and tide wait for no man unless, that is, he is playing for Manchester United. Then, it would appear, the stopwatch has a fit of the jitters. Amid the fallout from Sunday's Manchester derby, won 4-3 by United in the sixth minute of stoppage time after the fourth official had indicated a minimum of four, it has emerged that, on average, referees add at least an extra minute to games at Old Trafford when Sir Alex Ferguson's side are not leading compared to when they are ahead.
No wonder then that Mark Hughes, the Manchester City manager, was pacing the touchline like an expectant father after his side had brought the scores level at 3-3 as the match went into overtime. Michael Owen having scored the winner after another five minutes and 26 seconds, Hughes claimed his side had been "robbed". The fact that City had only been kept in the match by the goalkeeping of Shay Given and still let Owen slide off their disorganised defenders to collect Ryan Giggs's pass apparently did not come into it.
There has long been a widespread belief that referees favour the big teams, almost always born of the fact that the losers' supporters cannot admit that the better side usually wins. And when, as happened on Sunday, the bigger name wins in extended stoppage time conspiracy theorists are apt to sniff the air.
Anyone who seriously believes that at Old Trafford Martin Atkinson checked his watch after 94 minutes and thought he had better add on another two to keep Fergie happy ought to go and lie down in a darkened room. The reality is that even as the match went into stoppage time Atkinson was adding at least another 30 seconds for the celebrations which followed Craig Bellamy's equaliser and then added 30 or so more for United replacing Anderson with Michael Carrick. Such calculations are inexact anyway. This is not ice hockey, where puck and clock start and stop in unison.
So at home Manchester United are apt to get a few more seconds when they are looking for a winner or, more rarely, an equaliser. There is surely a logical explanation for this. Think about it. In these circumstances United will invariably force a succession of corners and the odd free-kick. As a rule referees allow a set piece to go ahead before ending a match.