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JEFF IN THE SUNDAY SUN
VAR - BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

11th March 2018

Do you remember the good old days when post-match, all supporters had to do was to complain about referee's decisions? No more, as now you can add VAR rulings and also the inconsistency of FA Disciplinary Panel's findings.

One thing that will never change are the arguments and varied opinions cast over the very same incident. In a way it's what makes football stand out as a sport that catches the imagination of the public. Opinion is often dictated by bias towards the team you support or against teams that are not amongst your favourites.

Everybody is entitled to an opinion, no matter how ill-advised or lacking in knowledge they are. Social media has a lot to answer for!

The end result after all the deliberations is that people will still not agree, conspiracy theories run riot and are usually so far away from the truth but that doesn't stop myth replacing fact in folklore. Boro fans will never forgive the governing body, the FA, for their infamous three point deduction that contributed in the club's relegation from the top flight many years ago.

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Indeed to this day there was always the feeling that Boro would never win an appeal when they took their case to the powers that be. Earlier this season, Boro failed to have Adoma Traore's red card overturned in a league game at Aston Villa. The outcome added fuel to the fire when an appeal from Villa's Henri Lansbury was successful in the same game by the same commission.

Inconsistency it was claimed, but as is nearly always the case no two incidents are ever the same. For what it's worth, on the night I immediately thought Traore's challenge was a red card offence and that opinion was made instantaneously at the stadium as soon as the flying winger launched himself into his badly mistimed attempt to play the ball.

Nowadays, you often hear commentators saying that referees take their time before rushing into making major decisions. From my experience as a referee, I can confirm that when a referee has a big decision such as a penalty or red card, the mind is made up immediately. Call it a gut feeling, but if you have a good view, you just know.

Boro fans were then not hopeful when in recent weeks both Rudi Gestede and once again Adama Traore were dismissed and the club decided to appeal the decisions. As we now know now both appeals were successful and Boro were able to field both players without any suspension. All Boro supporters were relieved and for the time being started to believe that perhaps the FA weren't so anti-Boro as previously perceived.

The problem is that with such inconsistencies in the disciplinary process it is inevitable that Boro, and indeed all clubs, will in the future fall foul of a system that continues to confuse.

Gestede's dismissal early on at Carrow Road condemned Boro to defeat as their game plan went out of the window and they were unable to combat the loss of the target man, having already been cautioned for a high boot in challenging for the ball. That caution was harsh, but having already gone in the referees notebook his decision to make a reckless attempt to win a non-crucial ball beggared belief.

It was at least a yellow card. The referee, stood a few yards away, deemed it a straight red and Gestede was left facing a three match ban for serious foul play as opposed to a one match ban for receiving a second yellow card for unsporting behaviour. After the successful appeal he got away scot-free. That just can't be right can it?

I'm delighted as any Boro fan with the outcome but the authorities failure to punish a guilty player does little to bring discipline to the process. Next time would you be surprised if a referee opts out of issuing a red card and takes the safe option and only issues a second yellow card. If the authorities are to govern in a fair and consistent manner, disciplinary action should be upgraded or downgraded post-match.

Fast forward a few weeks and the Wear/Tees derby was with so much at stake a game that didn't disappoint with talking points aplenty. Once again Adoma Traore was the centre of attention, Sunderland were already down to ten men after a challenge that surely no one in their right mind could dispute had seen Sunderland's number reduced.

All Sunderland fans frustrations were thrown at the Boro's main man, who was guilty only of being poleaxed. They played their part in creating an angry atmosphere every time Traore was involved, unfortunately he let that get to him and despite alleged provocation got himself involved with a Sunderland defender. Off the ball he raised his arms and forcefully thrust his opponent to the ground.

We all know what happened next - an assistant referee who had seen the reaction rather than any lead up to that advised referee Tim Robinson and Traore was off. He didn't exactly leave the field quietly and that increased fears that his ban already going to be for four games, as it was his second dismissal of the season, could even be increased further. Boro put together a second successful appeal and were saved the loss of their most influential attacking player.

Again it's the process that confuses me. As I understand it, if in the game the match officials miss an incident a panel of three former officials review the incident post-match and only if they are all in agreement that a red a card should have been issued then the FA charge the player who then still has the ability to appeal any subsequent ban.

If however, as in the case of the incident at The Stadium of Light, one of the match officials has seen it and disciplinary action is meted out on the day then any appeal is heard by a different FA panel including former players. Now anyone who has ever watched a post-match interview or the pundits on TV, will be aware that their views are inconsistent at best and incorrect in Law at worst. That once again leaves the match officials undermined.

Will the Assistant Referee be as keen to do his job and get involved in the future? The system is almost encouraging officials out of making the key decisions that they are out there to make. Match officials are never going to be popular and they will never be perfect but they are qualified to do the job and as such they should be supported by those that employ and appoint them.

All of that, and that's before we get onto VAR. I always maintained that the problem with technology being introduced into football was the fact that the game, unlike other sports, has a continuity that makes it problematic to check incidents without elongated delays as decisions are reviewed.

TV has actually helped highlight how nigh on impossible it is to gauge offsides with the goal line technology that works so effectively because the decision is factual and the response is instant. Offsides and penalties need close scrutiny and that takes time.

They say that you should be careful what you wish for and it is interesting see now hear that several former players are criticising its present format. Apart from possibly them seeing their roles as experts being reduced they are correct in pointing out anomalies apparent in its infancy and trialling.

It will be interesting to see how it all pans out in the World Cup this summer. If a player is having a poor day at the office it can affect his confidence and subsequently his performance. As a match official you make your decisions honestly and move on within the game, not dwelling on previous incidents. When VAR has overruled you, on offsides by millimetres, I'm not sure how subconsciously that will affect those still out there with more key decisions to make.




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