Newcastle’s VAR Conundrum

This weekend, the infamous VAR system hit a new low as Both Newcastle and West Ham were denied valuable points with two of the worst decisions in recent history. The Premier League have since requested an inquiry and PGMOL have accepted their wrongdoing – but this does little to ease the fact that Newcastle been cost by VAR in five of our six games this campaign.

The Painful VAR Decisions

Pretty much the only game we haven’t seen a VAR decision go against us was our season opener against Nottingham Forest. There’s been at least one in every game since. At Brighton, Callum Wilson scored a goal that was ruled out for a high foot that was ultimately, nowhere near endangering anyone.

A week later against Manchester City, John Stones climbed all over the back of Fabian Schär, consequently taking him out in the area. Nothing given and to be honest, I’m not even sure if VAR even bothered looking at it.

Then on to Wolves, Sean Longstaff is blatantly pulled back as he steadies himself to shoot. The referee waves it away, VAR opts not to intervene as they say it isn’t “persistent holding” which, if you’ve seen the incident, you’ll know is a crock of shite.

As you can see, Sean Longstaff is clearly being pulled back

On to Anfield and VAR rules out Alexander Isak’s brilliant second goal for an offside in the build-up. You can argue this one is black and white but having seen it back repeatedly, I’m still yet to be convinced he was actually offside. Even if he was an inch or two off, how has he gained an advantage from that? And in what way is it clear and obvious? Then to add insult to injury we conceded in the eighth minute of five added on which obviously isn’t a VAR issue but another example of the ineptitude of Premier League referees.

Then we come to this past weekend as Crystal Palace come to St James’ Park. After an hour or so of intensely frustrating football in which we missed chance after chance and the referee gave every little decision against us, it all came to head when the referee overruled a goal for a “foul” on the keeper.

The ball was delivered into the area and headed back across goal where Joe Willock was arriving. As Willock jumps to head it home, Tyrick Mitchell pushes him into goalkeeper Vicente Guaita before the ball cannons off the Palace left-back’s shoulder and into the back of the net. The goal was initially given before the VAR official Lee Mason advised referee Michael Salisbury to head to the monitor to check his decision, and he somehow came to the conclusion that it warranted a free-kick to Palace.

It was either a goal or a penalty. They were the only two outcomes that could have been deemed correct in that instance. How on Earth they’ve come to the decision that Joe Willock fouled the goalkeeper is absolutely beyond me. To make matters worse, we didn’t end up scoring and thus the decision cost us two points.

Between those five incidents, we could very easily have picked up another 7-9 points, which would see us currently sitting in the top four of the league. Instead, we’re languishing in 11th because the standard of officiating in this league is in the toilet.

What can be done to rectify the situation?

Well that’s the £100m question isn’t it? As mentioned at the top of the piece, Newcastle weren’t the only ones to be impacted by dodgy VAR decisions this weekend. West Ham were denied a late equaliser for a foul on the goalkeeper, despite the fact Edouard Mendy dived at the feet of Jarrod Bowen, leaving the Irons forward nowhere to go.

There were a number of other instances across the weekend too but one that stood out to me, for a good reason, was Michael Oliver’s decision for the penalty in Nottingham Forest v Bournemouth. He gave a penalty for a handball in the area, the VAR official asked him to review his decision and he went to the monitor, saw it again and then decided to stick with his initial decision. This is something we haven’t really seen before in the Premier League.

For whatever reason, the referees going to the side monitor has been more of a pantomime than an actual check. In 99% of the instances VAR has been used in the Premier League, the referee has gone to the monitor and overturned the decision. To the point where fans celebrate when the ref runs to the monitor, knowing the decision is going to be changed. Now, here’s the thing about that Michael Oliver decision – I still think he got it wrong, but the fact he stuck with his decision is good. We need to see a lot more of that.

The VAR use in the Premier League has been a bit of a farce really. The whole going to the monitor to check thing is a performance to sell to the crowd a decision that the VAR official has already made. So, things need to change. How you ask? Well here’s my thoughts on a couple of things we can do:

1 – Broadcast the conversation

The conversation between the referee and the VAR official is key to us understanding the logic for the though process. The commentators are able to hear the discussion and, in my opinion, PGMOL need to change it so that we can hear too. It should be broadcast across the TV and within the ground, so that we as fans can hear the logic for the decisions, and make sure there’s nothing fishy going on with the chats.

This is a process that is commonly adopted across other sports wherein the officials make use of technology to aid them in their decision-making process. The TMO in rugby is broadcast to the audience, as is the Decision Review System in cricket. Neither of those sports have many issues with their video assistants. Yes that is partly down to the fact the rules of those sports are perhaps a little more black and white, but in my opinion, the fact we can all hear them making the decision helps a lot.

At the very least, those chats need to be published online after the fact. Either that, or we make the referees take part in post-match interviews and be scrutinised the same way players and managers are. Tell us why you made the decisions you made, what your thinking was behind them and frankly, admit when you get one wrong. It might not fix the situation, but it would certainly help us to understand the referees and their thought processes a lot better.

2 – Re-referee the decision

At the moment, the way in which VAR works is that it can only intervene in a decision wherein there has been a “Clear and Obvious error’ on behalf of the on-field referee. Now, in my eyes, that needs to change. As soon as the VAR official tells the referee that he may have made a mistake, the whole decision needs to be completely re-refereed with the new evidence that he has in the form of the replays.

While we’re on the subject of replays – let’s stop showing them slow-motion replays too. Slow-motion always makes the tackle look far worse than it may have actually been. Show them all the angles they have, but in real time – and let them make a new decision based on that. What their original decision was should not matter one iota.

For me, this would be the best way to make use of VAR. It’s a Video Assistant after all and, this way, the decision making power stays with the on-field referee.

3 – Offside Rule Change

The offside rule is perhaps one of the most infuriating things about VAR. All of the different little grey areas within that particular part of the rule book make it very frustrating. Also, the fact you can be denied a goal because your striker’s armpit was an inch offside is frankly pathetic. So here’s what I would do to change it:

First of all, offside needs to be judged entirely by the position of the feet. That makes it a lot easier to judge for everyone and frankly, it’s a lot fairer that way. Secondly, and this one is a little more drastic, I would change it so that you’re only offside if you’re ENTIRELY beyond the last defender. It’s easier to judge (clear space between the defenders foot and the attackers foot) and it would be conducive to more goals which therefore enables a more entertaining game and therefore a better product.

I’m obviously not the first to offer up this suggestion. I believe Arsene Wenger once offered it up as an alternative and the likes of Jamie Carragher have since echoed it. For me, it’s without a shadow of a doubt the best way forward for the game.

It’s been a frustrating start to the campaign for Newcastle with these decisions. The PGMOL have accepted their mistakes but that doesn’t really change a whole lot for us. We still don’t have those points – so I guess we just have to look forwards. This Sunday, we’ve got a trip to West Ham in a battle of the two hard-done-to teams.

What are your thoughts on how we can make VAR better for the English game? Follow me on Twitter and join in the conversation.

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