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One moment: VAR is neither clear or obvious

Here we are, talking about VAR again.

Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

One Moment is a rebooted post-game Aston Villa column that takes a closer look at one single moment from the last Villa game. This week, we’re looking at the moment when a VAR controversy reared it’s ugly head once more.

#JustHourihaneThings - the moment when the Irishman brings his head up, swings the boot back and whips the shot in. He’s usually stood just outside the ‘D’ at the edge of the box when this happens, and it seems to be happening a lot now. The ball rolls in, burning through the air and past the flailing mittens of the goalkeeper. Villa are back in the game, and the fist-pumping Hourihane is at it again.

Minutes later, Brighton are taking a goal-kick, a direct result of Hourihane’s goal, which was ruled out about a minute or so after the ball was returned to the centre-circle following the screaming celebrations at the corner flag into the Holte End.

Why was the goal ruled out? Well - don’t ask anyone watching in the stands at the stadium, because they probably couldn’t tell you why. The ball was returned to the Brighton penalty area amidst screams of disapproval and confusion. The fans were treated to a clip of the match without annotation, the now infamous purple Video Assistant Referee placeholder, and the text ‘Decision - NO GOAL.’ Then play proceeds. One team is left upset and annoyed, another team is provided with a gleeful second wind.

VAR is still unclear, and if we are to discuss the matchday experience as a product, then VAR is tainting the ‘customer experience’. It shouldn’t be so bad, but it’s execution in the Premier League is as bad as if the people in charge of VAR genuinely want it to fail. It’s that poor.

VAR isn’t an automatic and robotic tool - we must say that. It’s an additional referee who is placed in a room with a team of officials who review live footage and intervene if the matchday official has missed a ‘clear and obvious error’ - like allowing a goal scored with the goal to count as a legitimate goal.

In the description, it sounds like a useful tool - and it is - but it’s execution in the past two Aston Villa home matches has left much to be desired. Firstly, it takes far too long for a decision to be announced and communicated to a crowd. Secondly, it is intervening on subjective decisions and not ‘clear and obvious’ errors. Thirdly, upon it’s usage, VAR transcends the game, and the match itself becomes about who can dupe VAR into being used to turn the tide of the game rather than the football itself. When VAR is used, you can bet the last pound in your pocket that fans will be roaring for VAR to be used when any slight incident occurs.

Hourihane’s goal was pulled back because the referee in charge of VAR had judged that Wesley, Villa’s striker, had fouled Brighton’s goalkeeper when challenging for the ball seconds before it fell to Hourihane. The Brighton goalkeeper flapped at the ball, and played it down under Wesley’s pressure, and although the two may have brushed bodies it as hardly an obstructing and clear foul. To rip away Hourihane’s goal is to give VAR the power to act on subjective decisions, which is a failure in it’s use.

The moment that we should be speaking about is Hourihane’s second Premier League goal - and in a way, it is; but for all of the wrong reasons. He shot true, and his goal was fair. It’s robbery, and I say that while attempting to trim my bias. Conor was robbed here, and VAR should not be used like this as it is unfair to the fans, unfair to the players and is not sporting.

With the fan reaction to VAR after the event, VAR has become far too powerful. It’s presence is one of menace hanging over a pitch. It’s aura is one of a malevolent force hanging over the pitch, one that we dare not challenge or upset. When VAR takes an event away, we are left asking why? Why has it done that to us?

There is a small feeling that VAR doesn’t act in justice, but in subjective malice.

There is a feeling that when Aston Villa win, they don’t just beat the other team, but they beat VAR. That’s wrong, dead wrong.