I took my mum and sister to Manchester yesterday to see Fulham in an FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday. I thought it would be the perfect familial treat for Mothering Sunday for two women who have tolerated and sustained my love of the Whites over the years – but it turned into an occasion to remember for all the wrong reasons. Those of us who were at Old Trafford in 2003 will always savour the magnificence of that performance and, the gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach even two days later, reminds you that the Whites were on course for an equally momentous victory until a minute of madness turned a match Marco Silva’s men were controlling completely on its head.

Silva, as brilliant as he has been in utterly transforming the mentality both within and beyond Motspur Park since taking over from Scott Parker, most take some of the blame for what transpired. This was far from the first time that the Portuguese had lost control on the touchline. Managers set the tone for their team: Fulham have attacked the top flight because Silva demanded an end to the passivity that had characterised previous campaigns – and the confidence that flows through this side is a direct result of the belief they now have on the ball. The Cottagers were twenty minutes away from their first FA Cup semi-final for more than twenty years. The moment called for cool heads. That was not what we got.

Similarly, there is no defence for Aleksandar Mitrovic putting his hands on the referee, however inept we think he might have been, regardless of how frustrated the forward was. The task of overcoming one of the biggest names in English football on their own turf was tough enough before the game. It had just got harder with ten men. It was virtually impossible after the implosion that saw Silva and Mitrovic ushered off the park seconds after their head coach. Both men will know their conduct left a lot to be desired. They will make amends in the future because I’m certain the ugly scenes that followed their red cards are not the image either wants to the world to see what they think of Fulham Football Club – but the hysterical reaction to it all also makes me uncomfortable.

Respect for the referees is vital. I first met the editor of this website on a refereeing course in the north east, believe it or not. I didn’t see Dan on Sunday but I imagine he was as furious as the rest of us. Both of us prolonged our interest in the beautiful game by taking up a whistle and completing our coaches badges because our skills on the pitch were sub-standard, to put it mildly. I take no pleasure from criticising match officials – because until a year ago I was one, but it is quite clear that the performance levels of the elite English referees have plateaued at best and, probably, actually gone backwards of late. Silva articulated his frustration eloquently afterwards in an interview ITV failed to broadcast and it centres around Chris Kavanagh’s recent history with Fulham – which we’ve previously documented.

We know it is difficult to discuss Fulham without an element of bias because we are all fans of London’s oldest football club but the decision to appoint Kavanagh to the Cup’s only all-top flight quarter-final should have raised eyebrows. Not just because of his history of poor decisions but because he hails from Greater Manchester. I’m no conspiracy theorist but I seethed like Silva after Luke Shaw shoved over Mitrovic from Fulham’s first corner. If you examine the replay of Andreas Pereira’s set place closely, you can see another Manchester United defending hauling Issa Diop to the floor at the very time that the England left back is bundling over Mitrovic. That pair were impeded at corners throughout the match: it is no coincidence that the only time the duo escaped the grabbling they combined to put Fulham ahead.

Having lived in the north east for more than a decade now, I’m well familiar with the lazy Mitrovic narrative. Many a Newcastle fan told me just how excited they were to have signed the Serbian hotshot from Anderlecht and hoped he would be a world beater. A young man desperate to perform for the team who were carried by his hero Alan Shearer for much of the mid-90s and beyond often allowed his frustration to boil over. He got a reputation as a liability and never seemed to fit the game plans of Rafa Benitez or Steve McClaren. When Mitrovic’s return to Anderlecht fell through, Fulham were the grateful recipients of a striker whose career was at a crossroads. How lucky we were that he came to Craven Cottage in the first place.

Mitrovic had his chances to leave Fulham – and came closest after being ostracised by Parker as another frustrating failure in the Premier League drew to a close. That he stayed on the banks of the Thames and committed to playing Championship football, a decision that could easily have put his international career in jeopardy, was a testament to his loyalty. Rejuvenated by being made the focal point of Silva’s attack, Mitrovic went on a remarkable scoring spree in the second tier. His predatory penalty box finish on Sunday drew him level with Steve Earle as Fulham’s seventh-highest goalscorer. Mitrovic’s contribution can’t just be measured in mere numbers – especially as his old round game is underappreciated – but the weight of his scoring shouldn’t be ignored.

Silva and Mitrovic have been an integral part of how this wonderful team, built in a few weeks over the summer when the pundits predicted a season of struggle, have surprised us all this term. Their achievements are incredible, especially given the gulf between the Championship and the Premier League that exists in our broken game. Whilst their behaviour was lamentable, the response from the talking heads smacks of sensationalism. ITV astonishingly allowed Roy Keane – a man who walked out his country as they prepared for a World Cup finals, missed the biggest game in Manchester United’s history through suspension, lambasted his team-mates on the club’s in-house TV channel and admitted to purposefully injuring an opponent, to anoint himself as a moral arbiter. Talk about ironic.

Chris Sutton, about as wide of the mark in his punditry as he was during his days missing the target at Stamford Bridge, called for Mitrovic to receive a ten-match ban. Is that the same Chris Sutton who was the subject of disciplinary action by the Norfolk FA after he charged onto the field to confront a sixteen year-old referee after his son was the subject of a hefty tackle? The reaction of the refereeing fraternity was just as frenzied. Dermot Gallagher offered praise for Kavanagh’s defusing of the situation whilst managing to absolve Bruno Fernandes for any blame for laying his hands on a match official in his regular Sky slot. Keith Hackett demanded Mitrovic be made an example of – and, our old friend Mark Halsey, fumed in the Sun about the depravity of it all.

Halsey’s intervention in the red tops really took the biscuit. The Queens Park Rangers supporter found no space in his column to recount his own pre-VAR experience of giving in to the pressure applied by a top team. Arsenal were apparently invincible when they came to the Cottage in 2003, which meant Halsey reversed his decision to award a penalty when Ashley Cole took out his namesake Andrew on account of the visitors’ reaction, and ruled out a perfectly good goal scored by Collins John. The Gunners were only following the Sir Alex Ferguson playbook of pressurising the match officials – and, of course, the Scot was captured on camera enjoying United getting the benefit of surrounding Kavanagh after he had pointed for a corner having been initially unconvinced that Willian had committed the crucial handball.

The action from the FA has been swift and Fulham will need to face the consequences. The outrage of the football community will rain down on Silva and Mitrovic, with the commentariat having already decreed that the spiky Serbian should be banned for anything from ten games to 181 days, in the absurd assessment of the chief executive officer of RefWatch. The head of the Referees’ Association Paul Field equated the Fulham number nine’s conduct with that of Eric Cantona on the night that had kung-fu kicked a spectator at Selhurst Park. It feels as though Fulham’s footballers are not the only ones who lost control here.

Silva and Mitrovic will need to learn the lessons of what happened on Sunday. The head coach can’t lose control so easily on the sidelines, especially if it is going to translate immediately into ill-discipline from his key players. Silva is so pivotal to the Fulham project that the club can’t afford to have him reduced to radioing Luis Boa Morte from up in the stands as he will be doing again shortly. Mitrovic has come so far since his St. James’ Park days that it is worth pointing out this was his first sending off in five years at Fulham. I hope he will never confront a match official in such a manner again – but the self-implosion should galvanise his team-mates for the remainder of the campaign.

The much-maligned Carlos Vinicius, who has scored two terrific derby goals whilst acting as a stand-in for the Serbian, will soon have a chance to improve on his goalscoring return for the Whites. If he does, then the Manchester meltdown might be remembered not as a missed opportunity but a turning point. The return to Old Trafford on the final day of the season already seems spicier but I hope Fulham’s football can do the talking this time.