Video assistant referee decisions have been the talking point all throughout the season, with supporters still regularly bemoaning the system but becoming increasingly accustomed to the new, strange era of football in which we inhabit. We’ve all now fully fallen into the grasps of Stockholm Syndrome with Stockley Park nowadays.
However, even by VAR standards, the omnipotent officials who monitor the video feeds were on a mission during Southampton’s Premier League clash with Newcastle. For a system usually criticised for being inconsistent in whether or not to penalise an incident, those in charge of the clash at St. Mary’s were determined not to fall into that category.
After just 28 minutes of a tense, hard-fought battle between Southampton and Newcastle, the VAR officials made their first significant intervention. As returning Malian international Moussa Djenepo left a fair bit in on Isaac Hayden with a crunching midfield tackle, referee Graham Scott issued a yellow card.
As replays of the tackle began to be fed down the video channels, it became clear the tackle was a nasty one. Entirely unintentional, it should be added in Djenepo’s defence, but still well within the remit of reckless. The Southampton midfielder was late and caught Hayden square on the ankle with his studs; leaving little surprise as to why Hayden remained down injured after the tackle.
Providing their feedback to referee Scott on the field, the VAR officials recommended he take a quick view of the pitchside monitor and, in a truly refreshing sight, the referee took in no more than a couple quick views of the incident before returning to brandish a red card. It was fast, efficient and correct.
But that wasn’t quite VAR’s evening done just yet. With Saints supporters understandably not feeling quite the same way about the decision, or following calls perceived to be going against them, they were left incensed when a foul on Sofiane Boufal by Federico Fernandez was then overturned and instead a penalty awarded for Newcastle as Boufal had controlled the ball with his upper arm earlier in the move. It was a harsh call, but again based on the rulebook correct.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, ex-Portsmouth man Matt Ritchie couldn’t rub salt in the wounds of Southampton fans as he watched his spot kick expertly saved by Alex McCarthy, who put on a stellar performance all game; having already at that point produced a stunning triple save to deny Dwight Gayle and Miguel Almiron.
As Newcastle plugged away, the game seemed destined for another goalless draw until the final 10 minutes, when perhaps rustiness was to blame as Saints defender Yan Valery was caught napping by an alert Allan Saint-Maximin, who showed immense composure to slot home the winning goal, capping it off with an acrobatic celebration.
With Valery shaky for the rest of the game, Newcastle pushed on but ended 1-0 winners.