Four words that describe the fourth round FA Cup tie at Anfield on Saturday evening. OK, I made one of them up, but it seems apt.
Even before kick off, the match was making history as the first FA Cup tie to kick of at 7.45pm on a Saturday evening, but it also saw the end of Liverpool’s 19-game unbeaten run at Anfield and the Baggies became the first team to score three goals in the first half at Anfield since Real Madrid in 2014.
When one of the big teams loses, it is normal for their deficiencies rather than the other teams’ strengths that make the headlines but, on this occasion, it is the use of the Video Assistant Referee that is hogging the limelight.
In the stadium, the overriding feeling on VAR was one of farce. You had to be eagle-eyed to spot the referee’s finger-to-the-ear signal to indicate that the VAR is being consulted, so most people had no idea what was going on. And boy did it take a long time, particularly for the Salah penalty appeal.
I’m generally in favour of some sort of video assistance for referees, but the current implementation is spoiling the game. The interruption to the flow is just too great at the moment, and the lack of information for the paying customers is ridiculous.
My view is that the simplest change to make in the current format would be to let the VAR himself make the call, rather than referring to the on field referee. I know FIFA have an issue in taking ultimate control away from the match referee, but the time it takes for him to review a video on the touchline is just too much.
Furthermore, the spectators seem to have largely been forgotten. There needs to be some sort of information, either by showing something on the big screen (something conspicuous by its absence at Anfield), or by miking up the referee so he can explain what is happening.
And then we turn to the decisions that the VAR resulted in. I have watched the BT Sport coverage to get the full picture that the apparently more important TV spectators got, and I’m still not convinced they got everything right. The technology is supposed to be used for clear and obvious errors and, while it can be argued that the final decisions were correct, neither of those that were changed were obvious errors.
The Gareth Barry offside decision was probably right but, while he is in an offside position, it’s not clear to me that he had any impact on the goalkeeper’s actions and I think he is moving his foot out of the way of the ball rather than trying to play it, as Chris Foy said on TV at half time. He’s only offside once Dawson heads the ball, and there is no way the keeper would’ve got anywhere near it in my opinion.
As for the Mo Salah penalty, I can understand why Pawson gave that decision based on the view he saw, but a slightly different angle showed how little contact there was and how much Salah exaggerated it. To me, that was a soft penalty. At least Firmino missed it, which in itself might a result of the VAR delays.
My final thought on the application of VAR last night is that there were three VAR incidents, one of which took three minutes on its own and two lengthy delays for injuries and yet Pawson added just four minutes on at the end of the first half – I didn’t mind that much as Albion were leading, but surely that time should be added?
In spite of VAR, Albion won the game thanks to a wonderful first half performance with stand-out displays from Rodriguez and Krychowiak, in particular, although every player in a Baggies shirt played well. J-Rod seems to have found some confidence and has now scored five goals in Albion’s last six games with his first at Anfield an absolute beauty. Liverpool must be wondering why they never bought him – he’s one of the few players to have left Southampton in the last few years for a destination other than Anfield.
The early mistake by Jonny Evans and/or Ben Foster which led to Firmino’s open was soon forgotten when Rodriguez buried the ball into the net in front of the Kop a minute later, and it was ancient history when he fired in his second four minutes after that.
Other than the early calamity, the defence was superb throughout the game and Ben Foster made a couple of excellent saves in the second half as Liverpool put us under a lot of pressure late on. Even the goal that was conceded was a little unfortunate as the ball deflected perfectly for Salah to finish.
Albion didn’t come away from Anfield unscathed, however, losing Kieran Gibbs and Hal Robson-Kanu to first half hamstring injuries and both Jake Livermore and Jonny Evans were walking wounded by the end, which makes the Baggies efforts in hanging on for the win all the more impressive. It could leave us a little short for the trip to Manchester on Wednesday evening, although we may have one or two new faces by then with any luck.
All in all, it was a special evening, certainly memorable and the result was wonderful. It was only fitting that the Albion fans burst into a chant of “There’s only one Cyrille Regis!” during the on-pitch post-match interviews, to which the remaining home fans responded with applause. I’m sure the Big Man was out on the pitch last night making sure the Baggies got through – I’ll give him my Man of the Match.