One Moment’ is a post-game Aston Villa column that takes a closer look at one single moment from the last Villa game. This week, we’re taking a look at the moment when Aston Villa scored - but didn’t.
Selhurst Park erupts as Jack Grealish battles into the box and plays Henri Lansbury in on goal, Lansbury strikes, first time, and his shot finds the net. Villa score in the dying embers of a well-fought match, and the referee Kevin Friend blows the whistle - but he’s not directing players back to the centre-circle to restart the game. He walks over to Grealish, and shows a yellow card, flagging a foul and removing Aston Villa’s last-gasp equaliser.
There is little else that is more painful than having a goal ruled out, except if a goal - an important goal - is ruled out. Aston Villa’s goal was important, as it was a strike at the heart of a Crystal Palace team who deserved victory. It was Lansbury, clawing something out of the game - and undeservedly so.
Here’s my take on what happened - and I’m probably wrong, but due to the lack of information stemming from matchday officiating, we’ll never actually know why Kevin Friend booked Jack Grealish, blew the whistle and disallowed Villa’s goal. He blew the whistle early - but play carried on and Aston Villa scored - a split-second after Grealish went down.
Lansbury turned back - and realised it was all over. The match is done and Grealish has been booked - for something. On closer inspection, Grealish collided with Cahill, but was able to pass the ball through to Lansbury who scored. Friend then blew the whistle and booked Grealish.
But for what? It’s hard to truly say. Friend killed the attack because of a downright assumption and that is unacceptable. Friend made himself the centre of the universe.
We’ve openly discussed the meaning of football - the goal - last week. The centre of the footballing universe is a teed up ball being slammed into the net after being whacked by a foot. The centre of the footballing universe isn’t a referee. It cannot be. The referee must be there to ensure the centre is protected. The referee is the much-maligned authoritarian running the show. Their black shirt billows as they lift their hands into the air to discipline players and their shrill whistle pierces the atmosphere. The referee, some might say, is there to balance the game. The referee, others might say, is there to spoil things. Your stance depends on how well in general you perceive and respect figures of authority.
The referee is different though. There’s no gun at his hip, he can’t do much to endanger you, he can’t change your life to a great extent. They are the figure of authority with zero backing, which is why I generally hate criticising them. They are expected to be the power, but don’t have a great deal of tool - and will have to dole out massive judgements, usually made in a millisecond, without assistance. Again, they don’t have weapons - all they have are words, a whistle and bits of card - there is little else they can do to exert their authority than make decisions, and make them fast. We have seen figures of authority enjoy their actions far too much - in real life and on screen - and you’d not be surprised if some of them feel empowered by directly impacting a match result.
If so, Kevin Friend must feel some small semblance of delight for this - our moment of discussion:
Build up to the disallowed goal.— Matt Lynch (@mattlyynch) August 31, 2019
Somehow Friend seems to think that Grealish dived in the build up despite clearly trying to stay on his feet.
Lansbury finished it but referee pulled it back to book Grealish.
VAR not interested. Shambles. #AVFC pic.twitter.com/Dzq4Ey05Xd
Friend’s decision doesn’t just impact Villa, it impacts the perception of Jack Grealish as the ‘diver’. Jack Grealish doesn’t dive - he puts himself into contact and places his body between the ball and a defending player. A dive isn’t falling over upon soft contact, it’s a flagrant attempt to deceive a match official. Viewing the segment of play once more, there is no attempt by Jack Grealish to avoid the challenge of Cahill, nor is there an attempt by Grealish to hoodwink the referee. So why was he booked? Instead, Grealish will carry his small burden further - the false perception of a cheating player. The difference now for him is that this has happened in the Premier League, in front of the eyes of the world, so his defenders won’t just be wearing claret and blue. The worst of it all is that for a few seconds, Villa fans may have doubted Jack - has the time come for the golden boy? Has he decided enough is enough and finally taken it upon himself to demand action from the referee by diving? No - the player is kicked to bits continued to chuck himself into the battle and returned from it scathed and without reward. The assist was struck off. We all saw him win the ball and win the battle on screen, and it will be replayed thousands and thousands of times without justice.
The impact, or lack of impact from VAR - is almost a moot point. It deserves discussion - especially from the talents of Alex Carson in that linked article, but it can only be used if the referee believes that it should be used. If the referee wants to assume complete and utter control, they cannot defer to VAR - as naturally, any consultation with VAR and the assistants placed in that backroom may contradict their decision, and lead to the reversal of an on-pitch decision. VAR could’ve played a part in awarding Aston Villa the goal - and taken away Kevin Friend’s decision. This could be perceived as not the referee using a tool, but them bowing to a superior off-pitch presence in the VAR room. If there is a situation when VAR should be utilised, it was during the 96th minute of Villa vs Palace.
Friend, with all the angst of a line worker being replaced by a robotic arm, marched forward and disallowed Villa’s goal mid-celebration. A referee, Robocop-like, marching forward into the fray to deliver justice - not via the Lawmaker pistol, but via the flimsy rain-sodden card.
Should they be that though? Should the referee demand an authoritarian position within the game, or adopt the role of a guardian - preserving the spirit of the game without impact? Should they defend the rules of their game - or their own reputations, wants and egos?
As stated - Aston Villa didn’t deserve a reward from this match, Crystal Palace were the better team. Is this the universe trying to provide balance via the medium of the empowered Kevin Friend?
Who knows, and who cares. Some moments in football suck.