Kevin Gage's Sheffield United Column: Forget the High Court stuff for a second... let's talk about THAT VAR decision against Southampton, and how the Blades' performance deserved more than a 1-0 defeat
I don’t quite know where to start with this week’s article, as the events OFF the pitch – which came to a conclusion on Monday - have completely overshadowed anything that happened ON the pitch Saturday. And that game had enough talking points to last an entire season!
Forget the High Court decision, if you can, for a moment and reflect on the high drama decisions given by a football referee – with the aid of some unseen judges in a computer room somewhere in London.
It’s a well-known virtue of our UK’s legal world that justice has to be seen to be done and reasoning given, but some decisions in the football world are clearly viewed in secret and their decisions will never see the light of day, nor explained ever again.
Whatever your views on VAR, it got the offside decision right as my very first reaction when Oli McBurnie put the ball into the net was to look at the linesman, for I assumed it was offside. Belatedly, and to save the linesman’s blushes, the technology intervened and helped him out.
Later in the game, as we searched for the equaliser, the ball from our corner appeared to strike the arm of James Ward-Prowse. Now here’s where it gets confusing and the VAR system isn’t helping matters, to be honest.
In the 100+ years since the modern game has been played and rules drawn up, this type of handball was deemed ‘accidental’, and probably rightly so. However, someone in high authority had changed this long-standing rule to state something along the lines that accidental handball is now not a thing anymore.
If a defender makes their body "unnaturally bigger" and the ball hits their arm or hand, it’s a penalty kick… isn’t it? The laws say so. Not only are there unseen judges to adjudicate on these things, there is also a separate monitor in the tunnel on all Premier League grounds for the referee to trot over and have a second look if he missed it the first time.
The very fact that about six Blades players and hundreds of fans behind the goal immediately appealed should have alerted him that there was possible arm contact with ball, surely?
Why didn’t he trot over to the monitor to have a look? Why didn’t the VAR guys tell him to? We’ll never know, and on another day it might not have mattered. It’s just on this particular Saturday, it did.
It did, because even though we put on a quite marvellous display of attacking football, especially in a scintillating first half, we just couldn’t find the breakthrough and convert our 17 shots into at least one, or the probably deserved two goals.
A combination of sloppy finishing with techniques letting people down at crucial times, together with some decent defending by a bright, clever, quick Saints team, meant an very frustrating day indeed for all us watching.
Once again, we looked more than comfortable in this division and starting from where we finished off at Chelsea, we took the game to Southampton from the first whistle. Enda Stevens, Jack O’Connell and John Fleck resumed their wonderful threesome relationship on the left and Ollie Norwood’s radar guided ‘pings’ were finding George Baldock in acres of space raiding down the right.
Southampton looked a very useful side indeed and gave us a few scares along the way, but overall we were better than them in virtually all departments. Except maybe the ‘gamesmanship’ one… and to be honest it’s one area that I never want a Blades team to become particularly good at. Lets do things and win games the correct way. Leave the play-acting and cheating the ref to others.
So we lost a game of football 1-0. Absolutely no worries at all. We’ll play worse this season a few times and win. It’s how it goes.
As a game of football it was superb entertainment, and speaking with my general football fan head on, that’s what the 90 minutes on Saturday is all about isn’t it? If it’s all about winning, was a scrappy 1-0 win over some very average mid-table League One side more entertaining then?
We’re in the Premier League guys. We’re going to lose a few. But if we play like that every week I’ll have no complaints whatsoever, ‘cos we’ll not only be entertained, we’ll also be mid-table, and we’ll be there or thereabouts in May too.
And, therefore, doing it all again next season.