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Goalline tech firm apologises after Villa escape with point on Premier League return

Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) – The company that runs the Premier League’s goalline technology apologised on Wednesday after it failed to spot Aston Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland taking the ball over his line in a goalless draw with Sheffield United that signalled the return of the Premier League.

Hawk-Eye said its seven cameras at Villa Park were all blocked by players and the goalpost when a free-kick from United’s Oliver Norwood late in the first half was caught by Nyland, who then stumbled backwards and looked to have carried the ball over his own goalline.

United players appealed for the goal, but Hawk-Eye’s technology, which alerts the referee when the ball has gone over the line, did not award it and VAR did not intervene despite replays clearly showing the ball had crossed the line.

“The seven cameras located in the stands around the goal area were significantly occluded by the goalkeeper, defender, and goalpost. This level of occlusion has never been seen before in over 9,000 matches that the Hawk-Eye Goal Line Technology system has been in operation,” a statement said.

“The system was tested and proved functional prior to the start of the match in accordance with the IFAB Laws of The Game and confirmed as working by the match officials.

“Hawk-Eye unreservedly apologises to the Premier League, Sheffield United, and everyone affected by this incident.”

The non-award of the goal was a dramatic moment in the Premier League’s first match after 100 days in coronavirus lockdown, in a season already marred by arguments over the effectiveness of VAR before the pandemic hiatus.

United will have cause for complaint if the two points they were denied prove decisive in their fight to qualify for the Champions League, with the Blades sixth, four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea. Villa remain in the relegation zone.

The return of top-flight football in England also gave players a platform to back the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.

Just before kick-off at Villa Park referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle and all 22 players and the officials went down on one knee for around 10 seconds.

Both teams were also wearing shirts with players names replaced by the Black Lives Matter slogan, a gesture that will be replicated across the Premier League for the first 12 games.

– Good to be back –

Much has changed in society since the COVID-19 hit and the Premier League has not been immune to those shifts.

All 92 remaining matches are being played behind closed doors, with the 300 people inside the stadium all having temperature tests before being allowed entry.

United travelled to Villa Park on three buses to maintain social distancing and walked into the stadium wearing black protective masks with the club badge on.

To cover some of the empty seats, sections of Villa Park were decked out in a combination of flags sent in by fans and banners prepared by the club.

An orange steward jacket was left in the Holte End in homage to boss Dean Smith’s father Ron, who used to work for the club on match-days and died of the virus last month.

In a change to the usual sight of teams walking out together, there was a staggered entry on to pitch and no handshakes before kick-off.

The first English top-flight game played in June since 1947 was played to the eerie silence that has become familiar to fans who have watched matches in Germany and Spain since football returned.

The only shouts, from players and coaches, echoed around the empty stands as Villa’s Conor Hourihane had the first shot of the restart when his effort was saved by Dean Henderson.

The absence of the crowd was most noticable when Nyland’s blunder should have led to United scoring, a flashpoint that would normally have created a storm in the stands but was instead greeted with silence.

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