ESPN has defended its decision to apologise and hold talks with the commentator Jon Champion after he labelled Liverpool's striker Luis Suárez a "cheat" in the wake of the striker's controversial goal against Mansfield Town.
The fall-out from Sunday's FA Cup tie continued with the Mansfield owner, John Radford, claiming Suárez embarrassed Liverpool directors and the manager, Brendan Rodgers, at Field Mill.
The broadcaster made the unusual move of issuing a statement implying that Champion had erred in criticising Suárez after the 25-year-old controlled the ball with his right hand during its live coverage of the FA Cup third-round tie.
After Suárez put the ball in the net for Liverpool's second goal Champion said the Uruguayan had scored by "illegal, nefarious means" and, after viewing the replay, declared: "That, I'm afraid, is the work of a cheat."
It is understood that ESPN, which is in the third year of a four-year deal to show 25 live FA Cup matches per season, had not been contacted by Suárez or Liverpool but decided to act after a string of inquiries from viewers, Liverpool bloggers and the media.
The club were aggrieved by Champion's comments but had no plans to take it any further. Following the match Mansfield's chief executive, Carolyn Radford, said the tie had been "stolen" from the club but Rodgers defended his player.
The broadcaster has apologised for any offence caused and is believed to have discussed the subject at length in a post-match debrief.
"We take our responsibility to deliver the highest standards of coverage to our viewers," said an ESPN spokesman. "ESPN's editorial policy is for commentators to be unbiased and honest, to call things as they see them. Inevitably this can involve treading a fine line on occasion, especially in the heat of the moment.
"Comments during the Mansfield v Liverpool match caused offence where none was intended and we have spoken to our commentator about this incident."
Mansfield were also aggrieved that three penalty claims against Liverpool players for handball were not given by the referee, Andre Marriner, and at Suárez's celebrations following his 19th goal of the season. Radford, the owner and chairman, said: "I'm going to be biased but I'm watching a Premiership referee, a game between a Conference side and a Premiership side, and some of the decisions were hurtful.
"When you get a professional player like Suárez celebrating a deliberate foul then it hurts. Of course it does."
Radford accused the Uruguay international of gloating by kissing the offending right hand after his goal, although that is a routine that Suárez performs whenever he scores in tribute to his wife and daughter.
"Of course he was [gloating]," said Radford. "It was: 'Hang on, I can get away with this.' You know, if one of my players had done that I'd be embarrassed. I was looking for a fair and true competition and that was one incident in the game that made me feel … Well, for me as Mansfield Town chairman – local club, local boy, born and bred – it's not business, I'm here for the passion against Liverpool, where it's all about business, and that was a killer. It was a killer that a professional would do that sort of thing to a non-league team."
Rodgers claimed that Suárez's handball was not deliberate and that the fourth official had admitted the referee spotted the incident but deemed it accidental. The Mansfield owner, however, continued: "To be honest, the Liverpool directors felt embarrassed. I would have been absolutely embarrassed and the manager should be embarrassed.
"The referees have a hard time but for him to do it deliberately and then celebrate is the hardest thing to take. To cheat, OK, but to cheat and them celebrate cheating, that is the worst thing you can do. If you're going to cheat, then fair enough. If you're going to cheat, then cheat. But if you cheat then celebrate cheating, then there you go. What I will say is that, one day, cheats will never prosper."
Howard Webb, meanwhile, has been appointed to referee Liverpool's visit to Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.
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