O VAR, Where Art Thou?

I’ve spent the season complaining about the impact VAR has on the game. After last Saturday, I’m thinking again.

Come to think of it, I’ve also spent a decade moaning about National League referees, but Yeovil’s first goal against us last weekend wasn’t something you could blame the officials for. They clearly needed some help to understand what happened and judge it correctly.

I know this, because I needed the support of technology to see what had actually happened. It led to me switching my opinion around a full 180 degrees.

To go through the incident as it first appeared to the naked eye, Rob Lainton had the ball in his hands, and Yeovil striker Courtney Duffus was standing next to him, presumably to prevent him from releasing the ball early.

Lainton complained to the referee about the striker’s position to no avail, and then went to kick the ball long. Here’s where the referee needed the opportunity to take a second look. Lainton releases the ball and then it appears that he pulls out of the kick. Apparently, he’s doing it to make a point to the referee: you refused to accept that Duffus was impeding me, well here’s your proof! I tried to clear the ball and wasn’t able to!

The logic seemed to be that no referee would be able to do anything other than give a foul: to fail to do so would be to take the controversial route, and what official wants to do that?

Well, it turned out that Saturday’s ref was happy to do exactly that!

As I said, you can’t blame the ref though. He’s standing on the half way line, and even watching the footage back it looked like Duffus had done nothing amiss (although admittedly the home side’s cameraman constantly had his camera pulled back a terrifically long way!)

So, my initial judgement of Lainton was pretty scathing. It looked like he’d gambled with his clean sheet and been wiped out. It was only when I zoomed the footage in and slowed it down that I could clearly see what actually happened.

Duffus, rather craftily, flicked his foot out just as the ball was dropping for Lainton to clear. It was a subtle gesture, hard to spot from the referee’s range, but it would certainly be enough to force Lainton to pull out of his kick. Dean Keates was generous in describing the movement as a reflex action; I’ll be less polite. It was a sneaky trick, and it worked.

The laws of the game are perfectly clear. A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hands”, and it’s a foul if a player “prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands or kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it.”

Whichever way you slice it, Duffus committed a foul. Of course, we’ve seen that the VAR officials actually ignore the rules when adjudicating a decision, ignoring an offence if the referee didn’t give it. It would have helped if the ref had been given a chance to see what actually happened last weekend though.

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