The right decision was made. No penalty. Andre Marriner looked at his monitor and watched reply after replay and the evidence was conclusive, Nathan Tella hadn’t been fouled and had instead tried to play the referee and every supporter watching.
Leeds United defender Diego Llorente couldn’t believe it when Marriner first pointed to the spot. The Spaniard hadn’t touched the tricky Southampton midfielder, but it was hard to tell on first view. Years ago, the referee would have stuck to his decision. He’d have had to. One look, in normal time and on the spot, a decision had to be made.
VAR has been criticised and ridiculed for 18 months. For some, it has quite simply ruined the game. It’s ruined the offside rule, played havoc with handballs, but, worst of all, it has ruined the joy of goals and the concept of being in the moment. However, on Tuesday evening at Elland Road it was used properly and efficiently and allowed justice to be served.
Marriner was advised by the VAR officials to check his monitor. The stakes are sky high in the Premier League, and decisions need to be correct. The referee marched over and watched the action. Again and again. He overruled himself, had all the tools at his disposal, and Leeds weren’t punished for Southampton’s “cheating” as TV pundit Graeme Souness called it at half-time.
Speaking on Sky Sports, the former Liverpool midfield general was clearly irked, claiming: “It’s cheating. For me, it’s sad that Tella’s not been booked for that. You can call it what you want, ‘simulation’, but it’s cheating and it’s trying to con the referee to get a penalty.
“That’s creeped into our game far more in recent years. When you look at the penalties given today, every game I’m working on, we have a situation where someone’s trying to steal a penalty.”
In the end, Leeds didn’t go behind from the spot. Instead, they turned in a clinical second-half display to win 3-0. It was a deserved victory, secured courtesy of a stunning Patrick Bamford strike, a Stuart Dallas peach and a late Raphinha goal. How cruel would it have been if they were a goal down because the Saints player looked to deceive everyone taking part?
VAR worked on this night in west Yorkshire and can be used for good. It doesn’t always have to spoil the spectacle, and in this instance it meant the home side weren’t cheated out of three points they deserved.
Of course, in an ideal world, players wouldn’t dive, they wouldn’t get the better of their fellow pros by pulling a fast one and going down of their own accord. Until then, VAR can be used for good and can catch these players in the act. Football has its answer to problem divers, even if the rest is a work in progress.