Aidan Smith: VAR is bad but clubs can't criticise it selectively when it suits

Well, did they or didn’t they? We need to know, we should be told …

Sorry if you think I’m referring to something infinitely more interesting like an erotic movie and whether the hot couple were acting or their bedroom scenes contained a good deal of truth. This is merely about Hibs and The Great Non-Penalty Outrage.

Last Saturday at Pittodrie a cross swung in from the left appeared to strike the arm of Aberdeen’s Nicky Devlin. But the spot-kick wasn’t awarded. Not by referee David Munro or via a VAR intervention.

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Hibs were raging and requested a meeting with the SFA who conceded the incident should have resulted in an on-field review. But did they or didn’t they? Did the SFA apologise for the error? Hibs claimed they did but the game’s governors deny this.

Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski collides with Hibernian's David Marshall - the Dons felt it was a penalty.Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski collides with Hibernian's David Marshall - the Dons felt it was a penalty.
Aberdeen's Bojan Miovski collides with Hibernian's David Marshall - the Dons felt it was a penalty.

I’m pretty sure an apology wasn’t issued and am not surprised the SFA would want to make that clear. Otherwise they’d be saying sorry a lot of the time right now.

Hibs’ Great Non-Penalty Outrage follows Rangers’ Great Non-Penalty Outrage in the Old Firm match at New Year. That itself was one of no less than 13 decisions deemed incorrect by the SFA’s VAR Independent Review Panel in the second round of Premiership fixtures. The figure was released just two days before the Devlin incident when referee chief Crawford Allan tried to claim that VAR is adding “value and accuracy” to our game. He must have winced at what happened at Pittodrie, though. And the guffaws from fans of all clubs which would have greeted his defence of VAR will only have been louder 48 hours later.

VAR may have got some things right - by sheer law of averages it must

have done, yes? But where is Allan’s “value” in the frustration of long-delayed outcomes, breaking up the free flow of a sport that prides itself on such? The wimp-out absence of any in-game explanation for said outcomes for spectators? The dousing of goal celebrations, onfield and off, a main attraction of football after all, but which are never the same after everyone has been left picking their nose so the video boys could pick apart key incidents like the cold case pathologists on Silent Witness, throttling them to give up even just an offside toenail?

Head of Referee Operations Crawford Allan during a VAR media day at Clydesdale House.Head of Referee Operations Crawford Allan during a VAR media day at Clydesdale House.
Head of Referee Operations Crawford Allan during a VAR media day at Clydesdale House.

One of the many things VAR has not done is remove conspiracy theories. In fact it’s added a few more. Clubs will believe they’re being unfairly treated by VAR over and above all the ways they are unfairly treated normally. The statement from Hibs after the meeting with the beaks read: “This is not the first occasion where the club have received an apology for VAR errors.” I don’t know the current placings in the league table of the teams most done down by VAR and whether Hibs are ahead of Rangers? And I’m also unsure of the positions of all the clubs who’ve played Rangers and never been awarded a penalty - but the table should be published, right?

Is there a conspiracy theory in the fact it isn’t? Maybe. Any more conspiracy theories? Well, how about the suspicion clubs will bleat about VAR to deflect from their own failings, to blame them on the dastardly tech and use it as a smokescreen?

Hibs didn’t win that game. The team are under pressure, the manager, too. But the narrative post-match and up to the Hampden meeting and beyond was all about VAR and the perceived injustice. The comedy defending which enabled Aberdeen to take the lead didn't much figure.

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And isn’t it a bit rich to complain about the second-sight officiating, or lack of it, regarding a single incident in a match when in another incident you’re fortunate not to condede a penalty and possibly worse, your goalkeeper sent off for what Aberdeen called “manslaughter”? And on top of that didn’t you benefit - same match - from a revised adjudication, your equaliser initially flagged for offside but then allowed?

Aberdeen didn’t make any complaint to the SFA afterwards, presumably because they accept that in football, you win some and you lose some. Cliche alert: these things even themselves out. This was how it was pre-VAR and the way it still is now.

But wasn’t VAR supposed to be clear, absolute and definitive, ending all the arguments? That’s what we all thought or at the very least hoped. It’s being used wrongly. St Johnstone manager Craig Levein, after his side were hit by two Rangers penalties last Sunday, bemoaned how “the guys in the booth” are making too many of the calls in games, suggesting referees be placed on half-pay. His cheek may make us smile, but isn’t Levein, like Nick Montgomery and Philippe Clement before him, just another manager moaning about VAR?

It’s definitely being overused. How many slo-mo re-runs is too many? Though you might pity the review teams if the footage at their disposal is no better than what BBC Scotland show in highlights form on Sportscene. Sky, who broadcast the Old Firm game live, offered a number of angles on Alistair Johnston sticking up an arm and getting away with it but there was only one, and not terribly conclusive, for the Devlin incident.

To be fair to Levein he did not say St Johnstone lost their game because of VAR. Hibs did not draw theirs because of VAR and really have the tech to thank, otherwise they could have lost. Meanwhile they continue collecting apologies. Maybe they look nice on the mantelpiece but I reckon the fans would rather see better performances and more points.



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