Brighton & Hove Albion played host to Crystal Palace in the third round of the FA Cup on Monday night, the first ever competitive English match to feature the video assistant referee (VAR) system.
At a fairly sparsely-populated AMEX Stadium (isn’t this supposed to be a ‘local’ derby?), the Seagulls nudged themselves in front in the 25th minute when Dale Stephens broke into the Palace box and thumped a powerful shot directly through Wayne Hennessey.
The match ebbed and flowed into the second half, when Palace eventually managed to haul themselves back level in the 69th minute when, out of nowhere, Bakary Sako drove one in from outside the box…
Then, cometh the 88th minute, cometh the first exciting intervention from VAR.
After a long freekick was slung high into the Palace box, Brighton defender Uwe Hunemeier guided a header back across goal that Glenn Murray managed to somehow bundle into the back of the net.
However, referee Andre Marriner suspected that Murray may have used a hand to guide the ball over the line and promptly called for the VAR team (basically fellow official Neil Swarbrick sat in a room somewhere in West London) to investigate.
Marriner’s suspicions were shared by Palace manager Roy Hodgson, who admitted after the final whistle:
There was still a slight thought it might just have brushed off his arm into the goal, but if it’d been my player scoring that goal, I’d have been very upset if it had been disallowed for handball.
However, a quick check with VAR revealed that Murray had smuggled Hunemeier’s knock-down in quite fairly, leading Hodgson to acknowledge that the goal was indeed “genuine”.
Of course, the fans in the stadium were the last to know what the heck was going on, as the replays being scrutinised are not broadcast on the big screens – but since when did the powers that be care one iota about the fans inside the stadium?
So, it’s Brighton that march into the fourth round of the FA Cup, where they will take on Middlesbrough at the Riverside.