There are few things more tiresome than supporters complaining about refereeing decisions and the injustices suffered by their own club. Consequently I hesitated in joining the clamour surrounding Kevin Friend and his VAR wingman Craig Pawson for a series of contentious decisions during Palace’s game with Liverpool on Sunday. However, emboldened by the almost unanimous castigation of the officials and my simmering resentment at what at the very least were some controversial calls by the men in black, supported by those in their Stockley Park cocoon, I am going to wade into the ‘debate’.
Let’s start with the last decision, and the one that attracted the most attention. After the customary toing and froing between the two parks, Selhurst and Stockley, a penalty was awarded after Diogo Jota clashed with Vicente Guaita in the 89th minute. Originally Friend did not see an infringement but that buzzing in his ear from Pawson insisted that Guaita had brought down Jota and insisted that Friend look at it again on the dreaded VAR monitor, with the inevitable consequence that the on-field decision was overturned.
That means there had to be ‘a clear and obvious error’ by the referee, which implies that he did not see what happened. For an objective view, here’s the Guardian’s Jonathan Liew on this incident “Alexander-Arnold looked up and pinged the ball 65 yards on to Jota’s toes. The flagging Jota could not quite bring the ball under control. But as Guaita closed in, he had an even better idea. It was a terrible decision by the referee, Kevin Friend, who even with the benefit of his own eyes, the VAR and several replays failed to spot that Jota had veered right in order to engineer a collision with Guaita, who could do little about it.”
Liew was just one voice in a torrent of comments and even Jamie Carragher, who often leans towards his former club in his assessment, admitted on commentary that this was rough justice. “I don’t think it’s a penalty. It always looks worse when they slow it down, when I watched it in real time, there wasn’t a problem for me,” he said on Sky Sports. “I think the ball has also gone too far away from Jota. I think it would be very harsh on Crystal Palace, I really do.” As Carragher went on to point out, the problem with watching an incident in slow motion is that it exaggerates any contact and as soon as a referee goes to review it on screen “it’s curtains.”
One last thing before we move on, and rest assured there’s plenty to move on to, if Friend and Pawson deemed that Guatia took out Jota (dubbed ‘The Rotter’ by Chris Sutton) and denied him a goalscoring opportunity then why was the Palace keeper not shown a card? Maybe, just maybe, they had some sympathy for the Spaniard because he did absolutely nothing wrong in standing his ground while the Liverpool forward ‘engineered’ contact.
With the penalty duly dispatched by Fabinho, a game that had hung in the balance after Palace had mounted a comeback, was effectively over with the visitors 3-1 up going into added time. As you would expect, anyone of a Palace persuasion was incandescent, with Patrick Vieira in branding the referee as “naive”, showing admirable restraint. Vieira was joined by all and sundry in condemnation, Gary Lineker tweeted “That Is Not A Penalty. Never in a million years.” Alan Shearer “Joke decision VAR. Never a pen.” And on it went.
The only person, aside from Messrs Friend and Pawson, who seemed to agree that it was the right decision was Jurgen Klopp, whose new contact lenses must have steamed up. “I didn’t see it but Jota thought it was a penalty, I could see that on the pitch. VAR thought it was a penalty and that is why the referee went to the screen so I am not sure what we are talking about now? Four eyes watched it.” Just imagine if the decision had gone the other way, the red mist would have descended.
Even though the third goal created so much heat, Klopp might argue that there was a 2-goal margin so the overall outcome would have been the same. There are two issues with that, firstly Palace were pressing for an equaliser and as Vieira pointed out the third goal took the wind out of the Eagles’ sails. Secondly, Liverpool’s second goal was potentially an even greater error. Roberto Firmino is clearly offside when the ball is played in by Andy Robertson [see main image], and Palace’s left back Tyrick Mitchell is drawn towards the Brazilian, leaving Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain free to trap the ball and fire it into the net.
It is irrelevant that Firmino does not touch the ball as he is clearly interfering with play/active, as the old quote asserts “If a player is not interfering with play then he shouldn’t be on the pitch,” and especially so when that player happens to be in the opposition’s penalty area. Apparently this was not deemed worthy of more than a cursory glance by VAR who were quick to declare that the check was complete. PGMOL defended this call by declaring that neither the defender nor the goalkeeper were impacted and the judgement (sic) was that Firmino didn’t affect the game with his jump. But how could Guaita’s positioning have not been affected by the possibility of Firmino heading the ball? Added to which Mitchell has to respond to the threat. As Liverpool owner JW Henry might ask “What are they smoking over there at Stockley Park?”
Finally, the same assistant who did not flag for Firmino being offside, did put his flag up in the second half without hesitation as Palace were mounting an attack just over the halfway line. This is baffling not only in light of his steadfastly refusing to do so when Firmino was clearly offside but also considering the more recent habit of keeping the flag down until play develops. The fact that Christian Benteke who eventually receives the ball is actually marginally onside compounds the trigger-happy assistant’s actions.
As pointed out in the opening sentence of this piece, moaning over referees being crap/biased against one’s own side or pro-Big Six clubs can be tedious. Quite often the fans with conspiracy theories crop up on BBC Radio 5 live’s 606 phone-in to rail against the injustices suffered by their team. Such ranting and raving usually falls on deaf ears as it is considered one-eyed and far too subjective to be of any value. So I will leave the last words to John, from Sunday’s 606 show. “Unfortunately for VAR tonight it was a clear and obvious mistake from them and they won’t admit it. And the annoying thing was for Vieira, you could see he was wanting to say more but, as he said, I can’t say more or else I’ll get punished. Well, I can say as much as I want. So basically VAR you’re a bunch of idiots, you’re a bunch of clowns. Mike Riley and all, you have got to get your act sorted out as it’s just becoming a joke.” By the way John is a Liverpool fan.