Officials set to back Clattenburg

Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata makes a point to Mark Clattenburg. Photo: PA

The two assistant referees and fourth official on duty in Sunday's controversial Chelsea v Manchester United clash look set to give their full support to referee Mark Clattenburg in the Football Association's forthcoming investigation, Press Association Sport understands.

Last night Chelsea lodged a formal complaint with the FA over the "inappropriate language" they claim Clattenburg used against John Obi Mikel in their 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge last weekend.

The west London club have submitted a dossier of evidence which contains accounts given by the players, who allege the 37-year-old official used a term which has been interpreted as racist.

Clattenburg denies the allegation and it is understood that assistant referees Michael McDonough and Simon Long and fourth official Michael Jones also believe he is innocent.

Press Association Sport understands the trio did not hear anything untoward from the referee during the match on their linked headsets and are expected to say as much in any testimony given to the FA.

It is understood that the professional refereeing community as a whole has been deeply upset by the allegation against Clattenburg, who himself is determined to clear his name.

Other well-respected current and ex-referees will offer positive character references for Clattenburg's defence if the County Durham official has to answer any charges from the FA or the police, it is understood.

If the procedure for previous disciplinary cases is followed, Clattenburg is likely to be the last person that the FA interview as part of its enquiries.

It is expected that the body will firstly look at Chelsea's dossier and then speak to McDonough, Long and Jones before interviewing the man who was in charge of the game.

Chelsea last night released a statement confirming they had submitted a complaint over Clattenburg's alleged comments towards Nigeria midfielder Mikel.

The London club dropped a complaint regarding a comment alleged to have been made by Clattenburg to another of their players, thought to be Juan Mata.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger today said he would have dealt with the situation differently if it had arisen in one of his team's games.

He told a press conference: "My opinion is just, I prefer when I didn't behave well, that I have an explanation with the referee at the end of the game, or on another day, than going public with little proof you know.

"I'm not a great believer in making these stories public.

"I am a deep supporter of doing that internally," the Frenchman added.

"If (football) becomes a sport to make the lawyers rich, I am not a fan of it.

"One of the great things in sports as well is tolerance, forgiveness and explanation internally and I think it should stay like that.

"It can happen that a referee doesn't behave well, I do not say they are angels, but it is always better to sort it out in the room."

Earlier this week Neil Warnock launched an attack on Chelsea for their handling of the affair.

The Leeds boss, who will now face the Blues in the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup, stands by the comments, his assistant Mick Jones said today.

Jones said: "People think (Warnock) says things off the hip but he doesn't, he thinks about things a lot and he's passionate about the Clattenburg thing.

"Believe it or not, he's pro-referees. There is no bigger supporter of referees than Neil Warnock. He won't regret it, he doesn't say things off the cuff, he is a thoughtful man."