The FA Cup third round served up its usual mix of big wins, shocks and stalemates on Saturday – but VAR controversy and confusion was a standout theme too.
The Video Assistant Referee system was in place for a selection of ties last season, including the final, and was scheduled to be used in nine third-round ties this term, including six on Saturday.
However, while the system has been brought in to reduce refereeing errors, not every decision went as smoothly as the officials would have hoped…
FA Cup third round fixtures with VAR
Bournemouth vs Brighton
Burnley vs Barnsley
West Ham vs Birmingham
Man Utd vs Reading
Crystal Palace vs Grimsby
Newcastle vs Blackburn
Fulham vs Oldham
Man City vs Rotherham
Wolves vs Liverpool
Burnley’s interrupted penalty
Matej Vydra had placed the ball on the spot, taken several paces back and was just about to start his run-up when referee Simon Hooper blew his whistle to inform the Burnley striker that, actually, his side hadn’t been awarded a penalty after all.
The Czech Republic international had been hauled down in the box by Barnsley defender Dimitri Cavare moments earlier and looked set to give the hosts at Turf Moor the breakthrough in an evenly-poised cup tie.
However, while he had been preparing to take the spot-kick, the VAR had been checking replays and spotted Vydra was in an offside position and it would be a Barnsley free-kick instead of a Burnley penalty.
“It was actually factually right (the offside call),” said Burnley boss Sean Dyche. “My frustration was more about the timings – how long it took. He is setting up to take the penalty. It brought a strangeness to the stadium and everyone was a bit confused.”
Man Utd’s delayed penalty call
Manchester United thought they had opened the scoring against Reading midway through the first half when Fred finished off a flowing move with a composed close-range finish, only for the assistant referee’s flag to go up for offside.
Referee Stuart Attwell asked the VAR to clarify if Fred had indeed strayed offside and after a three-minute delay, it was decided that while the Brazilian was offside, Juan Mata had actually been tripped by Omar Richards just prior to that.
However, while there was a message on a screen inside Old Trafford saying “VAR check in progress, checking penalty”, it still was not clear exactly what was going on for those watching back home on TV.
So, despite the correct decision of a penalty being reached, the time it took and the resulting confusion were still worrying looking ahead to its implementation in the Premier League next season.
“From where I sat it was a clear penalty, so I didn’t need VAR there,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the game. “But then they were probably checking if it was offside or not, probably was. Well done by Juan, he gets the ball down and the penalty was well struck.”
Morata’s appeals fall on deaf ears
Alvaro Morata endured highs and lows during Chelsea’s comfortable win over Nottingham Forest. The struggling Spain striker scored twice, missed a sitter – and appeared unaware VAR wasn’t being used at Stamford Bridge.
After being brought down by Claudio Yacob, Morata was incensed he hadn’t be awarded a free-kick and made TV gestures towards the fourth official, imploring him to check the replays and inform ref Andy Madeley he’d missed a clear foul.
But the incident only served to underline the issues around VAR’s inconsistent application – even at Premier League grounds – and raised the question: why hadn’t the players been told it wasn’t in use?
Yellow turns to red at Selhurst Park
Crystal Palace’s tie with Grimsby was barely two minutes old when Andrew Fox lunged in at Andros Townsend with a high tackle. After initially allowing play to go on referee Martin Atkinson booked Fox for the challenge.
However, after receiving notification via his earpiece from the VAR that the tackle was more severe than he initially believed, Atkinson rescinded the yellow and brandished a straight red for Fox.
In this instance, VAR was a success, correcting a mistake from the official which would have had a big bearing on the rest of the match. However, the process of the on-field referee brandishing certain cards and then having to change the decision was less than ideal.
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