West Brom analysis: VAR fury leaves brave Albion floored by human error

From the hand of god, to Reading’s ghost goal and everything else in-between, football has always been plagued by poor refereeing decisions.

The foul on Conor Gallagher of West Bromwich Albion that the referee initially gave as a penalty before VAR over turned it. (AMA)
The foul on Conor Gallagher of West Bromwich Albion that the referee initially gave as a penalty before VAR over turned it. (AMA)

But VAR was supposed to stop this.

It certainly wasn’t meant to dominate and overshadow the game we all love.

At Old Trafford on Saturday, though, the use of video technology was nothing other than farcical.

And it potentially cost Albion not just one point, but all three.

The moment this game will forever be remembered arrived in the 46th minute.

Conor Gallagher, who was outstanding all evening, was clearly tripped in the box by Bruno Fernandes.

The Portuguese midfielder did get the slightest on touches on the ball.

But he took out the man as well with referee David Coote immediately – and correctly – pointing to the spot.

From their base at Stockley Park, however, the VAR officials were not sure.

They could have ruled it out. They could have told Coote he was correct.

But instead they bottled it and asked the referee to look at the incident again at the pitch-side monitor.

Just seven days earlier, Champions League referee Felix Zwayer said officials know they will overturn a decision as soon as they are called to the sideline.

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes scores his side's first goal of the game from the penalty spot

Psychologically, they feel they have made a mistake if they are told to look at it again.

“They called me for an on-screen review and at this moment I already knew I would have to cancel the goal because they have evidence,” Zwayer said when talking about a decision he made in a game between Atletico Madrid and Juventus.

“I am working with my VARs for a long time, they would only call me if they have evidence and I need to change a situation.

“So, It’s not about that they are taking a decision but I know that if I go in front of the monitor there will be something which will change my mind.”

The trouble here was they hadn’t found anything – but under pressure Coote didn’t have the courage to back his original decision and decided to just let play go on.

“We were a tad lucky,” admitted United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær afterwards, in a statement of the blatantly obvious.

But he wouldn’t have been talking like that if it had been his side that was denied such a clear spot-kick.

To compound Albion’s misery, United were then given a penalty of their own when Juan Mata’s cross hit the arm of Darnell Furlong.

Gallagher had clearly been fouled in the build-up. But VAR didn’t want to go back that far.

And while Furlong had turned his back on the ball, five years ago, or even three years ago, this would never have resulted in spot-kick with absolutely no intent on the defender’s behalf.

Handball has been changed into a rule that nobody wants.

And you felt justice had been done when Sam Johnstone made an excellent save to deny Fernandes from 12-yards.

But the keeper had strayed off his line during the time it had taken Fernandes to do a hop, skip and and jump in his run up.

And thanks to another rule nobody wants, that meant he got a second bite at the cherry, one he was never going to miss.

It was so cruel on Albion who, very simply, had been fantastic in the first-half.

Any promoted side going to Old Trafford needs their keeper to play well if they are going to have any chance of getting a result.

And here Johnstone was spectacular with the glovesman making one impressive stop and one outstanding one to twice deny Anthony Martial in the opening 20 minutes.

But those moments aside, Slaven Bilic’s side defended superbly in the 3-5-2 formation first utilised to good effect against Tottenham just before the international break.

They had to concede a lot of the ball.

And they had to be very organised and very disciplined. But they were.

They key was always going to be making the most of the opportunities that came their way.

And they also created two decent chances to open the scoring in the opening 45 minutes.

Some wonderful skill from Matheus Pereira saw him slip the ball through the legs of Nemanja Matic before sending Karlan Grant charging towards goals.

From 20-yards, the striker then arrowed a low drive to the corner that a full-stretch David de Gea did well to parry away.

Then just before the break, Kyle Bartley produced a clever header after meeting a corner only to see his effort sail inches over the bar. Even after United’s goal, Albion had chances.

On the angle just six-yards out, Conor Townsend forced De Gea into another excellent save when he really should have scored.

Almost confirming the gods were against them, substitute Callum Robinson then beat the keeper from 20-yards only to see his effort thunder back off the crossbar and bounce to safety.

West Bromwich Albion manager Slaven Bilic kicks a can on the touchline

It’s important to remember Solskjær’s side also had their moments after they scored.

With more space to exploit, Johnstone made more smart stops to deny Marcus Rashford and Harry Maguire.

Albion deserved a result here, though.

They deserved one for their grit, determination and desire.

And they deserved one because they were massively let down by the officials.

Sadly, though, in a few weeks time nobody will remember that.

It will be the points gained column that is all that matters in the race for Premier League survival.

And Albion now find themselves at something of a crossroads.

Performance-wise they could have easily found themselves four or five points better off.

But results – for a host of reasons – have slipped through their hands.

You’d like to think, naturally, their luck will turn.

But they cannot continue to be nearly men – they must find a way to get over the line and start winning games.

With Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and Newcastle the next three, that time is now.

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