TOM COLLOMOSSE: VAR made some bewildering decisions in Leeds’ dramatic win over Wolves… in the most exciting relegation battle in years, the officials MUST start getting the big calls right
- Leeds held off a Wolves fightback to win 4-2 at Molineux on Saturday
- There were a number of controversial refereeing decisions in the game
- VAR must get big calls right with so much on the line in the relegation battle
In the most dramatic Premier League relegation battle for many years, there is huge pressure on the officials to get the big decisions right. The weeks ahead will reveal whether they are up to the task.
If a refereeing error costs Arsenal or Manchester City the title, everyone will remember it – but it will make little difference to either club’s financial position or the livelihoods of their employees.
That is not the case in the relegation battle, where dropping into the Championship means missing out on hundreds of millions in television revenue. The least these clubs can expect is competence.
Referees and their assistants will make mistakes, just as managers and players do, yet VAR was introduced to correct these errors. If it does not, then what is the point of it? If clubs feel they cannot trust the work of the team of officials, it is extremely worrying.
So when Leeds defender Junior Firpo tried to curtail Nelson Semedo’s progress, he kicked the Wolves man’s boot instead of the ball, sending him to the floor. With several players close at hand, it is understandable that referee Michael Salisbury might not have been certain enough to award a spot-kick.
Jonny was correctly sent off for his horror tackle on Luke Ayling late on at Molineux
There were also some baffling decisions during the game, and Matheus Nunes was sent off for his protests from the Wolves bench
Wolves were denied what looked to be a clear penalty after Junior Firpo appeared to foul Nelson Semedo
Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui believes there have been some ‘incredible’ refereeing decisions that have gone against his side recently
The replays seemed to leave little room for doubt – so it was remarkable that no penalty was given. It seemed simple: defender misses ball in box, takes man – penalty. Apparently not, according to VAR David Coote.
Later, Wolves defender Jonny correctly had his yellow card upgraded to a red through a VAR intervention, after a dreadful tackle on Luke Ayling. If Jonny was sent off, though, why wasn’t his team-mate Craig Dawson, who made a similarly bad challenge on Jack Harrison towards the end of the first half?
The result meant Leeds boss Javi Gracia could brush off the incident but he would not have been quite so calm had Dawson played a part in a Wolves comeback.
VAR is a mess and it seems inevitable that it will cost one of the relegation candidates dear. It is one thing to lose because of the mistake of a referee or the person running the line. It is quite another to lose because the person appointed to correct on-field mistakes fails to do their job properly.
Wolves boss Julen Lopetegui stopped short of saying the officials were not up to the task but he has been unhappy at a number of calls that have gone against his team in recent times. Referees’ chief Howard Webb has apologised to him more than once this season, with the latest occasion last week after Wolves were denied a clear penalty in their 2-1 defeat at Newcastle earlier this month.
‘We have been very unlucky,’ said the Spaniard. ‘The referee decisions until this moment [since my appointment] – it’s incredible. I could make a book.
‘Maybe when you have the same mistakes a lot of times against you, it’s not balanced. If you can’t change the fairness, maybe we have to do better. I’m not waiting for apologies, I want fairness.’
Lopetegui’s assistant Edu Rubio and club secretary Matt Wild were granted an audience with Salisbury but the refereeing display was not the only decisive factor here. Every side in the relegation battle craves a reliable goalscorer and the late contribution from Rodrigo will fill Leeds with optimism.
The forward is working his way back to match fitness after injury but his stoppage-time goal was a finish of pure class, a dink that gave Jose Sa no chance for his 13th goal of the campaign. Wolves do not have a player capable of being so incisive in front of goal, and this will likely mean they are in this fight until the end.
Goals from Harrison, Ayling and substitute Rasmus Kristensen put Leeds in command by the hour mark before goals from Jonny and Matheus Cunha dragged Wolves back into it. Jonny’s sending-off snuffed out that challenge, though. Now both sides will have a pause for breath before the really difficult part begins.
With six games for Wolves in April and seven for Leeds, there will be little room for error. The least Lopetegui, Gracia and the other bosses in the fight can expect is to have no more unpleasant surprises from the officials.
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