Last week’s piece which explained that, had VAR been inexistence in the past, several crucial goals in our recent history would/could have been chalked off got me thinking - which was the point, I suppose. If VAR had indeed been in existence in the last, say, two decades, there are several decisions which went against us that even Dawn Thewlis would agree should have gone our way. Before I start with four of my (least) favourites, let me contest the supposed VAR decision on the beach ball goal. Have a really, really good look at the goal again. Go on, I know you’ve got it recorded somewhere – you’ll see that the last thing the ball (football, that is) hits before going into the net is Glen Johnson’s foot. My VAR decision is therefore that the goal should stand, but the little Scouser who chucked the ball on the pitch should remain the least popular kid in the red part of Merseyside despite now being 27 years old.
Right, here we go, and I’ll start with another incident in the Di Canio 3-0 up the road, in which we last week showed that VAR would (probably) have decided that their “equaliser” wasn’t offside and the David Vaughan was. Before anybody had bothered the scoreboard, we played a ball into the mag penalty box, and Steven Taylor, in an effort to make himself even less popular to football fans the world over, virtually removed Danny Graham’s shirt and prevented him moving towards the ball and this was after the ball had struck Taylor on the arm, prompting penalty appeals from Danny. Against character, Ref Howard Webb decided to keep the home fans happy and ignore both transgressions. With this season’s rules in place, the first would have been handball and penalty, and with any season’s rules in place, the second a penalty thank to VAR spotting them both. So, we could have been two up before Sess fired in that daisy-cutter.
I you were a match-goer twenty years ago; you’ll almost certainly remember one of the most bizarre disallowed goals you’re likely to see. Aston Villa were the visitors to the SoL on March 5th 2001, and with only 35 minutes gone, Quinny had to leave the field, to be replaced by Danny Dichio. We won a corner on the left at the North end, and Dichio rose like a young salmon to plant a cracking header into the net as David James in the Villa goal, several yards away, was flattened by team-mate Ozalan Alpay. Obviously, referee Stephen Lodge assumed that no defender would be daft enough to splatter his own keeper, and thus awarded a free-kick against the nearest red and white shirt. Even VAR with a Vaseline-smeared lens would have spotted that error and given the ref a tinkle. As it was, we had to thank Gavin McCann for a late equaliser to cancel out Julian Joachim’s earlier goal and a single point instead of all three.
Just under a year later, we hosted Liverpool, and looked to go one better than the draw in that season’s away fixture. Don Hutchison had put us ahead early in the second half against his old employers, and the win was looking very much on the cards as the clock ticked down. With twelve minutes to go, Gary McAllister loped towards the Roker End/South Stand, and, thirty yards from goal, was fouled by Stan Varga, but stumbled on for another ten yards or so before finally flinging himself to the ground, arms outstretched, in the box. “Get up, you bugger” roared the crowd. “Penalty”, says referee Graham Barber. General disbelief all round, apart from the laughter in the away section. Jari Litmanen, an early replacement for Emile Heskey, duly tucked the spot kick beyond the reach of Tommy One, and we had to settle for the draw. A clear and obvious error by the ref, and one that VAR would have called, probably ensuring that McAllister increased the yellow card count from eight to nine (ungentlemanly conduct/simulation for his dramatic dive), and given us a deserved victory.
Cast your mind back to Boxing Day 2011, again at the SoL, with Everton the visitors. Attacking the South Stand in the first half, as you do, the colossus that was Titus Bramble managed to hurt himself early on, forcing a 21st minute replacement by club legend, cult hero, and all-round good guy Jack Colback. Within five minutes, the ginger Pirlo had put us ahead, and that’s the way it stayed until the 51st minute. Everton played the ball to Leon Osman in our penalty box, who tried a shot but succeeded only in missing the ball and kicking the turf – but appealed for a foul as he subsequently fell over. Howard Webb, sensing a chance to put himself in the spotlight again, immediately pointed to the spot, despite the nearest Sunderland player, Lee Cattermole, having been a good yard from the ball and having made no attempt to tackle his opponent. Even those in the North Stand could see that Catts had done nothing wrong, as would VAR have done, and Leighton Baines’s inevitable conversion would never have taken place. When MOTD cameras showed that no foul had been committed, Osman claimed that he’d kicked his own leg and went down because he “felt contact” – a heinous statement in itself, and a blatant lie as the cameras clearly showed him not only kicking the turf but raising a considerable divot in so doing. Another 1-1, another two points stolen from us.
Where was VAR when we needed it?