Aston Villa 0 Sheffield United 0 - Surroundings are different but technology remains a shambles
When English football emerged from the shadow of coronavirus, we were told everything had changed.
Certain aspects of the sport, however, remain unerringly familiar. Such as the ability of technology to make a complete and utter horlicks of even supposedly routine incidents.
Moments before half time, as the opening period of the first Premier League fixture since March meandered towards a close, Sheffield United’s players began a socially distanced celebration when Aston Villa’s Orjan Nyland carried Oliver Norwood’s free-kick across his own line.
But much to their bemusement, and later disgust, it emerged the Hawkeye system wasn’t working which meant United had to settle for a point.
Seventh in the table and on the cusp of the Champions League qualification positions, Chris Wilder’s side had entered this surreal and controversial match in the West Midlands with high hopes of closing the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea to only two points.
Having gone three months without a game, United’s coaching staff suspected ring rust might be a problem, while injuries to Jack O’Connell and John Fleck further complicated their preparations.
But even the loss of two of their most influential performers did not cause them as much of a headache as the failure to award Norwood’s clear and obvious strike.
Villa, battling for survival at the opposite end of the rankings, had adjusted better during the opening exchanges with Keinan Davis forcing a scrambling save from Dean Henderson before heading over a decent chance at the far post.
But as the contest wore on, so United’s influence grew as they got to grips with the challenge of competing inside an empty stadium.
As half-time approached, Norwood appeared to have given them the lead when Nyland’s momentum left him nestled behind an upright after plucking the midfielder’s centre out of the air.
But for some inexplicable reason, the effort was not given because the supposedly infallible system designed to stop clear and obvious errors was not working properly.
Wilder’s anger had subsided when the two teams emerged for the second period. But, had Henderson not made two fine blocks from Davis and John McGinn, he would have been apoplectic rather than bewildered when proceedings were eventually brought to a halt.