One can only ponder the reaction had Michael Oliver’s about-turn in the closing seconds of Villa’s 2-1 defeat to Brighton last Saturday taken place in front of a packed Villa Park.
It feels fair to question whether the official would have been so brave as to overturn his original decision to award the hosts a penalty with 13,000 Holte Enders braying in his ear?
Even in an empty ground Oliver spent a good while weighing things up before deciding to change his mind. Just a few hours later his colleague David Coote was in the same position at Old Trafford, advised to check the monitor by his video assistant before determining Bruno Fernandes’ challenge on Conor Gallagher was not, all things considered, a foul.
Both officials took a post-match hammering on social media but in truth the fault was less theirs and instead the continued vagaries over what and what doesn’t require a VAR check. Though it was commonly accepted Albion were more harshly treated than Villa, neither incident could be classed in the category of clear and obvious error, which is supposedly the only time the video monitors at Stockley Park are supposed to interfere.
True, Villa winger Trezeguet could be accused of having made the most of it. But he was certainly clipped by Brighton’s Solly March, whose immediate reaction, throwing his hands in the air almost apologetically, suggested he feared the worst.
If there had been no VAR and Oliver’s original decision stood there would no doubt have been grumbles from the visiting camp and claims the penalty award was ‘soft’. Yet it was hardly a howler.
There is no escaping the feeling we have now replaced one debate with another, far more tedious one, with video technology robbing the game of its flow and spontaneity. Since the Football League was founded fans have railed against poor decisions, now they can only do so after a few minutes pause while someone checks the replay.
The extent to which joy has been eroded, meanwhile, can be seen in the fact some players, including Wolves’ Pedro Neto, now appear reluctant to celebrate goals for fear of wasting energy and quickly looking foolish.
While much has been written about how playing behind closed doors has altered the game, VAR remains a persistent irritant.