It seems like the only thing that football pundits talk about nowadays is VAR. Each weekend sees more and more controversial decisions being given by the Video Assistant Referee. The weekend just gone provided another moment of VAR history with Bruno Fernandes’s penalty against Brighton being awarded after the final whistle.
VAR has been a part of football since the 2018 World Cup. At first watching the game stop and seeing the referee hold his ear then run over to a monitor to check a decision was quite exciting. However now it is met with unanimous groans and cries of “not again”. The debate about VAR could go on for hours and hours, however I think most people can agree that we need it in football, but referees need to apply more common sense when making decisions.
With Sunderland playing in League One it means that the key moments in their games are not checked by the Video Assistant Referee. However, if VAR had been introduced when Sunderland were in the Premier League then some of the Black Cats’ most iconic goals would have never happened.
Here are 3 iconic games in Sunderland’s recent history which would have been ruined by VAR:
DAVID VAUGHAN GOAL VS NEWCASTLE - 14 APRIL 2013
VAR would have really had his work cut out in the game between Sunderland and Newcastle on 14th April 2013, where if the VAR had its way, a 1-1 score line rather than a 3-0 thumping could have transpired… I kid you not. Let’s look in more detail…
This Tyne-Wear derby saw Sunderland get their first victory at St James’ Park for 14 years. It started the six in a row winning run against Newcastle and was an afternoon to remember. Looking back at the game there is a number of incidents that the Video Assistant Referee would have definitely had a look at.
Stephane Sessegnon opened the scoring for Sunderland in the first half before Papiss Cisse thought he had equalised in the 61st minute, only for it to be ruled incorrectly offside. Cisse was quite clearly onside however the assistant referee raised his flag, much to the anger of the Gallowgate End and the rest of the stadium. If VAR was in operation in 2013 then this derby could have turned into a very different game and Newcastle could have went on to get a result. However, seeing Alan Pardew celebrating thinking his team were back in the game, only to realise there was a flag up will live long in the memory of many a Sunderland fan.
After this controversial incident, Adam Johnson doubled the lads’ lead which led to the iconic Paolo Di Canio knee slide. In the 82nd minute Sunderland attacked once more and David Vaughan fired an unbelievable strike into the top corner past the helpless Rob Elliott.
But when looking at the replays it shows that Vaughan was actually half a yard offside. Even though VAR chalking off this goal would not have had a significant impact on the game, it would have meant that the massive pile on that ensued after the goal would have been for nothing and Paolo Di Canio raising 3 fingers to the travelling Sunderland fans would never have happened.
JI DONG WON GOAL VS MANCHESTER CITY - 1ST JANUARY 2012
Many will say that this goal and game is one of the best to ever grace the Stadium of Light and they’re not wrong. Taking place on New Year’s Day 2012, Manchester City went into the game top of the table and were looking to extend their lead after a Manchester United slip up the day before.
However, Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland had different ideas, after 90 minutes of defending for their lives the Black Cats counter attacked and found themselves deep into the Manchester City half. What happened next is arguably one of the most iconic Premier League moments ever and one of Martin Tyler’s greatest pieces of commentary. Stephane Sessegnon played a neat one-two with Ji who then rounded Joe Hart , and whilst nearly falling over managed to slot the ball into an empty net. The roar that erupted around the Stadium of Light that day will live long in the memory of Sunderland fans however Martin Tyler’s screeching of “Ji to Sessegnon, back to JIIIIIIIIIII, HES ROUND THE GOAL KEEPER… AND HES DONE IT!!,” will arguably be remembered with fonder memories.
However, if VAR had been in operation that day then the goal would have not stood and Sunderland fans would have been robbed of one of the most iconic moments in our recent history. When watching the goal again Ji is marginally offside when Sessegnon plays the ball back to him. Martin O’Neill was questioned about this in his post-match interview to which he responded “oh was it” before a wry smile appeared upon his face.
Despite this goal being Ji’s second and final goal of a largely unsuccessful spell for Sunderland he has still managed to achieve a cult hero status amongst SAFC fans. After leaving the lads Ji has went onto to play for a number of Bundesliga clubs including FC Augsburg, however it’s unlikely his career will have a better moment than his goal against City.
DARREN BENT GOAL VS LIVERPOOL - 17TH OCTOBER 2009
Definitely the most controversial goal on this list. The infamous ‘beach ball’ goal is one of the most bizarre goals scored in the Premier League and world football. It is fondly remembered in Sunderland and around the world for the ridiculous nature of the whole incident. Sunderland, under the recently appointed Steve Bruce, had made a positive start to the season and went into the game sitting in 8th place in the Premier League.
The game started with a quick tempo and Sunderland managed to take the lead in rather ‘fortunate’ circumstances. Andy Reid’s deflected cross found its way to the foot of Darren Bent who rifled a shot directly into a red beach ball, which had remarkably managed to find its way onto the pitch. The deflection from the beach ball completely wrongfooted Pepe Reina and saw the ball fly past him into the net. Whilst Bent and the Sunderland players wheeled away in celebration, the furious Liverpool players crowded Mike Jones and his assistant.
After what seemed like half an hour, Jones reached a decision and awarded Sunderland the goal, much to the delight of the 47,000 fans in the Stadium of Light. The incident is made even funnier by replays showing that the ball had managed to find its way onto the pitch due to a young Liverpool fan smacking it on. Really it should not have taken VAR to rule this one out, the laws of the game state that the referee should have awarded a dropped ball rather than the goal. If VAR existed in 2009 then one of the Premier League’s most iconic moments would have never happened. The consequences for Jones giving the goal were that he was demoted to refereeing in the Championship the following week. The consequences for the child who threw the ball onto the pitch was that he was the most unpopular kid in Liverpool.
Whilst VAR has brought the game into the 21st century and made football better to an extent it must be said that the controversial moments such as the beach ball goal made football into the game we all love and hate.