LONDON — Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has been suspended five matches by the Football Association after criticizing an official during a Premier League game.

Ferguson said of match official Martin Atkinson's performance in United's 2-1 loss to Chelsea on March 1 that his team didn't get a "fair or strong referee."

Ferguson appealed his suspension, but the FA said Wednesday that an independent commission "found the charge of improper conduct relating to media comments proven."

Ferguson also was fined $48,000.

The outburst earned him a three-game ban, and two matches were added because of a previous suspended sentence hanging over Ferguson. The suspension starts Tuesday.

Ferguson was furious that Atkinson refused to send off Chelsea defender David Luiz for fouls on Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney after the Brazil international had already been booked.

He was also critical of the awarding of a late penalty shot to Chelsea for United defender Chris Smalling's foul on substitute Yuri Zhirkov. Frank Lampard converted the spot kick for what proved to be the winning goal.

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"I must say, when I saw who the referee was, I feared it. I feared the worst," Ferguson said on United's in-house television channel, MUTV.

Half of a four-match penalty for questioning referee Alan Wiley's fitness after a match last season had been suspended until the end of this campaign.

United's defeat at Chelsea was followed five days later by a 3-1 loss at fierce rival Liverpool, leaving Ferguson's team atop the Premier League but with only a three-point lead over Arsenal, which has a game in hand.

The domestic suspension will force Ferguson to watch four league games — against West Ham, Fulham, Everton and Arsenal — from the stands. It will also take in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City scheduled for April 16-17.

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