Impact of VAR on Hearts players laid bare as plea is made to use break wisely

The fact that it took until the 97th minute for Hearts to get the equaliser at Tynecastle on Saturday against Livingston speaks to the away side’s strengths and illustrates how difficult an often pedestrian home side found it to conjure up clear-cut chances.

Hearts' Josh Ginnelly could not celebrate properly after scoring a 97th-minute equaliser against Livingston.
Hearts' Josh Ginnelly could not celebrate properly after scoring a 97th-minute equaliser against Livingston.

However, the fact that Josh Ginnelly felt unable to celebrate his last-gasp goal demonstrates just how damaging VAR is proving to the Scottish game. The Hearts winger was in the right place at the right time to pounce on a Ayo Obileye’s clearance and slam the leveller past Ivan Konovalov as Robbie Neilson’s men salvaged a point and ensure fifth place as they head into the World Cup break, two points behind Livingston and four behind Aberdeen.

While the goal raised the roof at Tynecastle and provoked wild celebrations from the Gorgie gaffer, on the pitch the response from players already beaten down by the new technology was more subdued. “It’s weird. You can’t even celebrate goals any more,” said defender Toby Sibbick, “because you don’t know if it's a goal or not and if it’s chalked off you will have celebrated for no reason. At the end when Gino scored he didn’t celebrate because he didn’t know if it was going to be a goal or not. It’s playing with people’s emotions. But that’s how football is going to be.”

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Both managers railed against VAR, as confusion around decisions and lengthy delays impacted the pace and the passion of the game, and Neilson warned that unless it gets slicker it is “going to kill football”.

“Hopefully it is better after the World Cup break,” agreed the 23-year-old Sibbick, who was rejoined in the Hearts backline by Craig Halkett after Kye Rowles was red carded for one of the debated VAR calls, “They came in at the start of pre-season and they showed us some decisions from last season and told us what would be a foul or wouldn’t be a foul. It’s something they are working on but it can be frustrating as players are waiting two or three minutes for a decision. It must be frustrating for the fans as well.”

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Penalty shouts, tackles, handball and goals were all poured over by the video officials, resulting in a penalty for Livi, who once again proved they are worth their lofty position, and a red card for Hearts. There could have been another spot kick awarded, as Cammy Devlin was cleared out and another sending off after Alex Cochrane caught Nicky Devlin.

The visitors had taken the lead in the 55th minutes when Stephen Kelly beat Craig Gordon and both keepers had saves thereafter but none more notable than the Scotland No 1’s penalty save from Sean Kelly after Rowles tugged at Joel Nouble’s shirt. That kept Hearts in it and allowed Ginnelly to strike in the dying seconds.

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“‘We knew what kind of game it would be and we knew we would have a lot of the ball,” added Sibbick, admitting that they did not do enough with that greater possession, though. “In the first half we caused them a few problems but maybe not too much. Overall we were disappointed with the result but we got a draw with 10 men. Now we have two weeks off and we will be back after the break.”