It was a weekend of contentious refereeing decisions in the Premier League.
From Charlie Austin’s absolutely incredible rant after seeing a perfectly good goal disallowed for Southampton in their home draw to Watford to Antonio Rudiger getting booked after being headbutted by Everton’s Bernard, across the land match officials were making weird and not-so-wonderful judgements.
The imaginatively named Cardiff City Stadium wasn’t immune to this wave of madness. Martin Atkinson and his team spent most of Saturday afternoon making baffling decisions which largely went against Brighton and Hove Albion as they fell to a 2-1 defeat against struggling Cardiff.
You know the officials have had a bad game when even Chris Hughton is coming across angry. The mild-mannered Albion boss is one of the most honest managers in the game. He will nearly always point out his side’s own shortcomings rather than heap blame onto the referee.
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Nearly always, but not on this occasion. Hughton was incredulous that Atkinson had allowed Sol Bamba’s late winner to stand and it wasn’t hard to see why. As the Bluebirds delivered the late free kick from which Bamba would eventually smash the loose ball home, the Cardiff centre back is so much deeper than the Albion’s backline that he might as well have been stood on the superior side of the River Severn.
When a marginal call goes against you, it’s difficult to take but you accept human error. A linesman can’t be expected to judge an offside decision when there is a millimetre in it and the action is taking place through 20 bodies at 200mph 35 metres away. But this was such an obvious offside that it is genuinely shocking it wasn’t spotted.
That was Hughton’s opinion. Hughton being Hughton, he said he understood why Dale Stephens had been sent off in the first half and that was certainly a much less contentious decision. When you have a player like Stephens who goes flying into challenges, you’ll always run the risk that a stricter referee might interpret his style of play as dangerous. Mike Dean certainly did on that unforgotten May day at the Riverside Stadium and Atkinson thought it here.
You can say Stephens just about wins the ball or he is in control or find another way to justify why it wasn’t a red card, but the simple solution would be for him not to give the referee a decision to make by being so reckless in the first place.
It’s been a while since we were on the end of a genuine game changing decision that was incorrect. Ironically, it was probably that aforementioned red card that Stephens received from Dean on the final day of the 2015-16 season which all but ended the Albion’s automatic promotion hopes.
Two-and-a-half years without a refereeing shocker costing us points suggests that standards aren’t as bad as some would make out. But they could be raised even further with one simple change – the adoption of VAR in England.
In amongst his Victor Meldrew-style diatribe at St Mary’s, Austin offered the line, “You go on about VAR this and VAR that, help the officials out. Clearly, they need help - so give them all the help they need.” Rudiger was equally clear in his desire to see VAR bought in to help the referee see things he may otherwise miss, such as a bloke getting headbutted off the ball. And that’s the crux of the matter. If you can help officials avoid making blatant mistakes – as Cardiff’s winner on Saturday quite clearly was – then you should be doing it.
Some will say that human error has always been part and parcel of the game, but it will continue to be even with VAR introduced. Players will continue to mess things up, managers will make bad selections and yes, referees will still get decisions wrong.
But they don’t need to get it as wrong as they did on Saturday. Austin knows it. Rudiger knows it. And now we Brighton fans know it. It's time for VAR.