'A very clear handball': Where was VAR when it was needed?

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Video assistant referees (VAR) were used in English football for the first time this week, but the technology’s absence in the Premier League was felt by two managers on Saturday.

The technology made its debut in English football, albeit on a trial basis, as Brighton beat Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on Monday, and was used again in the Carabao Cup semi-final first leg between Chelsea and Arsenal, but referees in the Premier League do not have access to it yet.

And, predictably perhaps, out of six of the 15:00 GMT kick-offs in the Premier League on Saturday, two games contained controversial incidents affecting relegation-threatened sides.

Swansea felt they should have been awarded a first-half penalty in their 1-1 draw at Newcastle , while Southampton believe they were denied a win at Watford as Abdoulaye Doucoure used his hand to net a 90th-minute equaliser in their 2-2 draw.

At St James’ Park, with the game goalless, the home side’s Mohamed Diame appeared to handle the ball 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,” said Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal.

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“This is one of the situations VAR will in the future say ‘clear penalty’ – it will be clear.”

The draw – and a win for West Brom – left Swansea still at the foot of the Premier League table, four points behind 17th-placed Bournemouth.

Meanwhile at Vicarage Road, Watford’s Doucoure used his hand to score Watford’s dramatic late equaliser – an incident that BBC Final Score pundit Kevin Kilbane called “an absolute disgrace”.

“I think Doucoure has been one of the best players in the Premier League this year – but that is clear handball,” said Kilbane. “He’s got his hand up by his head – it’s as clear a handball as you’re ever likely to see. Southampton desperately needed this win, and the officials have robbed them – it’s really poor.”

Watford's Abdoulaye Doucoure scores<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>

It denied Southampton a first win in 10 league games as Watford erased a 2-0 half-time deficit, leaving the Saints 16th – ahead of Bournemouth on goal difference before the Cherries face Arsenal on Sunday.

“I never see this type of mistake in the Premier League before,” said Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino. “To live this injustice is really hard. I think we have to try [VAR] and analyse if it’s possible to help the sport to make better decisions, even for the referee.”

Watford manager Marco Silva did not want to discuss the goal, although Hornets striker Troy Deeney conceded the home side might have had “the luck of the draw” after he provided the assist for Doucoure.

“They’ll feel like it’s a loss,” he said. “[If] VAR comes in we probably wouldn’t get that but today we got it.”

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When will VAR be used?

Where a VAR review is used, it will normally be triggered during stoppages in play and limited to four types of match-changing incidents:

  • Goals
  • Penalties
  • Straight red cards
  • Mistaken identity

When is VAR not used?

  • Second yellow cards
  • Referees cannot say “I’m not sure, I’ll look at a replay” – they have to make a decision and if it’s a clear and obvious error, they’ll be told by the VAR.
VAR was in use in the League Cup<!–<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>

The system will again be made available for next week’s FA Cup replays between Chelsea and Norwich, and Leicester City and Fleetwood Town.

VAR can only be used at Premier League stadiums where there is a direct link back to the Premier League studios west of London – where the official operating the system has access to between 12 and 15 camera angles, including four cameras in each goal.

It will be used in the return leg of Chelsea’s League Cup tie with Arsenal and implemented in every round of the FA Cup and some further replays, based on broadcaster TV picks and whether the host for each tie is in the Premier League.

Referees boss Mike Riley has already confirmed changes to VAR will take place for those games, particularly surrounding letting spectators in the stadium know whether the system is being used.

Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson was satisfied with how officials handled Glenn Murray’s late winner as Brighton progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup in what was the first competitive game in England to have the technology available.

In the second trial match, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte also backed the system after referee Martin Atkinson consulted the VAR on two Chelsea penalty claims.

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