Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino said the controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system had been “embarrassing” after his side came through an incident-packed FA Cup replay against Rochdale at Wembley on Wednesday.
Spurs, who eventually won 6-1 on the back of a second-half hat-trick from Fernando Llorente, were twice denied goals, had one penalty claim rejected and another accepted on the word of the VAR during an extraordinary opening period at the national stadium.
Fans at Wembley, Spurs’s temporary home while their successor ground to White Hart Lane is built, had no way of knowing the reasons behind the VAR’s decisions as, unlike the systems in use for rugby and cricket, they were not broadcast or displayed on a giant screen.
Moreover, there were several occasions when it took the VAR a lengthy amount of time to reach a verdict, while there were others when he appeared to be over-ruling an on-field call that did not involve a clear and obvious error.
Once again, technology was the main talking point of a match where Son Heung-Min put Spurs ahead only for Stephen Humphrys to equalise before Rochdale, bottom of third-tier League One, hit the post through Andy Cannon.
Llorente’s treble put the result beyond doubt, with South Korea star Son scoring a second goal and substitute Kyle Walker-Peters his first for Spurs at senior level deep into stoppage time.
Pochettino’s joy at seeing Spurs set up a quarter-final with Swansea was tempered by his concern about the impact on the game of VAR, which is being trialled in English cup competitions this season.
– ‘Love the game we know’ –
“The first half was a little bit embarrassing for everyone,” he said. “I’m not sure that system is going to help. We love the game we know, football is about emotion but if we are going to kill emotion then people who love football will not be happy.”
There have been suggestions VAR could be deployed at this year’s World Cup in Russia but Pochettino insisted: “I think football is about to make a mistake. Referees can make a mistake. When we watched the action at half-time it was difficult to take some decisions.
“The referee is the boss on the pitch and has the last word, always. And my worry is now we are talking about a machine and not football.”
Spurs thought they had taken an early lead thanks to Erik Lamela’s close-range finish.
But referee Paul Tierney, after consulting VAR Graham Scott, ruled it out for what appeared to be the slightest of contacts by Spanish striker Llorente on Harrison McGahey in the build-up.
Tierney consulted the VAR again to deny Lucas Moura a penalty but Spurs did take the lead soon afterwards when Son slotted home in the 23rd minute.
With Harry Kane on the bench, Son was Spurs’ designated penalty-taker.
He got a chance from the spot when, after another lengthy VAR consultation, Tottenham were awarded a penalty for a foul by Matt Done on Kieran Trippier.
Son then put the penalty into the back of the net only for Tierney to disallowed the effort because Son had stopped in his run-up. Inevitably in such a match, the eventual decision was preceded by yet more prolonged involvement of the VAR.
“The decisions the VAR make need to be explained to the supporters,” said Rochdale manager Keith Hill.
“I knew, and the players knew, but we have to come up with a way to let people in the stadium know what’s happening.”