David Lowe: The Lowedown

Do I really want to go down this road? In a split round, albeit one filled with controversy, the choices are fairly limited. VAR, you were the star.

Star failure? Star disappointment? Star headline grabber? Undoubtedly that. 

SPOT OF BOTHER: Wanderers striker Oriol Riera scored two goals against the Jets from contentious penalties. Picture: AAP

SPOT OF BOTHER: Wanderers striker Oriol Riera scored two goals against the Jets from contentious penalties. Picture: AAP

In a survey of 1001 people on the weekend, only the holidaying Barnaby Joyce enjoyed the amount of headlines the much-maligned system attracted. 

Mild-mannered Jets coach Ernie Merrick looked like he was chewing a wasp in the post-match press conference, pointing out a number of concerns about the implementation of the system.

It came as an enormous relief to find that the Head of the A-league, Greg O'Rourke, announced that Ernie's post-match comments will be reviewed and assessed to see if any further action is required.

Nothing like the threat of a hefty sanction to discourage debate and dissention. Management 101, but who does it help?

Many could argue that Merrick is too close to it all to pass concise judgement so soon after the game. Opinions on certain aspects were debated by well-credentialled "experts”, and astoundingly  in my eyes, supported by others.

If I'm being totally honest I could make a case either way for the majority of decisions.

The offside decision given on VAR evidence against the Wanderers for the first “goal” was close enough to have been afforded benefit of the doubt to the attacking-team status. The first penalty against Nikolai Topor-Stanley could have gone either way. Contact was softish, obstruction minimal, but the Wanderers player was never going to retrieve the ball first, as there was a covering defender comfortably ahead of him in the race for the ball. A 50-50, that one.

For me Jason Hoffman’s “header” was never going to stand. Certainly he went for the ball and, yes, goalkeepers are a protected species. But on the standards applied for the past decade or two, anyone even touching or brushing a goalkeeper in the act of catching the ball is penalised.

The “Hoff” making an honest attempt, doesn't get to the ball with his head, and his momentum carries him into the arms of Wanderers keeper Vedran Janjetovic. 

Soft, yes. But I was astonished, given modern standards, that it was awarded a goal in the first place.

If those decisions were debatable, the second penalty awarded against the Jets was farcical.

A ricochet from point-blank range from an opponents’ knee onto a hand surely cannot lead to the “punishment”, as the often zany Ned Zelic called it, of a penalty kick.

Am I talking through a one-eyed Newcastle slant? Certainly not. In fact if the penalty hadn't been given, we wouldn't have witnessed the magnificent Andrew Nabbout goal, more or less straight from the restart. That's a touch ironic, no?

Here is further proof of consistency in analysis from a column dated the December 19, after the Jets got a lucky late winner against Adelaide.

After offering congratulations to Merrick and his team, your scribe offered this: “Do I think they were fortunate? Hell yes, but that's not their problem (not this week anyway). The Jets’ winning goal contained all that is wrong with the VAR system and the refereeing fraternity’s lack of feel for the game.”

Having detailed the tough slog of a game, played in sapping conditions, your scribe described the game-deciding handball decision thus. 

“The ball had been struck by Dimi Petratos, blocked by an Adelaide defender and ricocheted at point blank range to hit the upper arm or chest of the defender Petratos had just beaten, as he recovered from a slight stumble.” 

And further: “The ball was headed towards the sideline, away from danger, to another Adelaide player actually, when it hit the arm/chest of the player.

“Advantage gained nil. Intent to hand ball nil. Cost to team, between points lost, yellow cards acquired, and effort unrewarded, absolutely significant and understandably frustrating.”

Notice any similarities there, two months down the track? 

If it's not apparent already, we are blind. Games will come down, on occasions, to moments of controversy – decisions that could possibly go either way. I can't see how we can change that.

All we can hope for is a consistency in application and interpretation from the match referee.

The hand-ball situation is the one that really concerns me, and Merrick’s tongue-in-cheek call that he would consider coaching his players to flick the ball up and hit defenders’ arms was touched on by your columnist almost three months ago.

Talking about the number of hand balls being awarded, and the almost mandatory accompanying yellow card (thankfully Peter Green didn't give NTS his second on Friday), I noted: “Seriously, it is at epidemic levels, and games are going to be affected, and ultimately spoiled, if we don't realise that there is a massive difference between deliberate hand ball and being struck on the arm at point blank range".

As Ernie half-jokingly suggested, and yours truly warned in late November: “If the current interpretation continues, a host of skilful players will start practising to flick the ball into dangling arms, instead of dribbling past defenders (yes like they annoyingly aim for opponents’ feet in hockey, to get free hits) and won't that be fun?”

I don't think you can let the debate and controversy wear you down to the point, and several well-respected experts may already be there, that every ball that hits a defender’s arm in the 18-yard box is deemed a penalty, irrespective of intent or not.

My theory that asking referees to judge or overrule other referees is fraught with danger remains firm, as does my offer to find experienced ex-players to earn a six-figure salary making the decisive calls up in the VAR bunker!

Commonsense really!

PS. By the way, when all is said and done, an important and well-earned point for the Jets.

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