London (AFP) – Troy Deeney had no qualms in saying Watford’s controversial last-gasp equaliser against Southampton would have been ruled out had a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) been in place at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
Abdoulaye Doucore sealed a 2-2 draw in the Premier League clash with what most observers regarded as a clear handball in the final minute.
The French midfielder stooped to nod Deeney’s header back into the net — only for the ball to miss his head and be swept home with his hand.
It was possible to make a case for saying Doucore’s action had been inadvertent rather than deliberate but not as far as Martin Keown was concerned, with the BBC pundit saying the Watford man had “done a Maradona” — a reference to the football great’s blatant handball that helped Argentina knock England out of the 1986 World Cup on the South Americans’ way to lifting the trophy.
However, referee Roger East and linesman Derek Eaton either missed Doucore’s action completely or were happy to let the goal stand as scored.
This past week saw VAR introduced into English football, with Monday’s debut in the FA Cup third round clash between Brighton and Crystal Palace followed by a second apperarance in Wednesday’s League Cup semi-final first leg match between Chelsea and Arsenal.
However, it is still some way off from appearing in the Premier League.
“If VAR had come in we probably wouldn’t get that but today we got it. It’s the luck of the draw,” Deeney told Sky Sports.
Had Southampton preserved their one-goal lead it would have been their first Premier League win in 10 matches.
Yet Saints manager Mauricio Pochettino was still able to express his disappointment in measured terms.
“My feeling is like the players, we are a little bit sad,” he said.
“The last goal is something that surprised me because in the Premier League the level of referees is good. It’s clear (handball).”
“Everybody makes mistakes but the problem is at this level you have a lot to play for so we are disappointed.
“From the bench it is more difficult to see but the referee and the linesman are closer. I imagine the referee is not happy now.”
– ‘Clear penalty –
The south coast side were not the only Premier League club left regretting the absence of a VAR on Saturday.
Swansea felt they should have been awarded a first-half penalty in a 1-1 draw at Newcastle that left the Welsh club rooted to the foot of the table.
Again the issue was an ‘unseen’ handball, with Newcastle’s Mohamed Diame appearing to block the ball illegally after Swansea’s Mike van der Hoorn had flicked it towards goal.
“My assistant says it’s a very clear penalty and a red card also, so it’s another decision that creates something important but what can we do? Nothing, only talk about this,” Swansea manager Carlos Carvalhal told the BBC.
“This is one of the situations VAR will in the future say ‘clear penalty’ — it will be clear.”
While the two matches in England to have so far featured a VAR have largely passed off without incident, the same is not in true in France where the system in place for goal-line reviews was suspended Thursday following “serious dysfunctions”.
Amid speculation some sort of VAR could be in place at this year’s World Cup in Russia, the problems in France included both a failure to make a referee’s watch vibrate to confirm a goal had been scored and the reverse issue, when the match official’s watch vibrated when the ball was held by a goalkeeper well before it had crossed the line.
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