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Roker Roundtable: Could questionable Championship officiating be the catalyst for VAR?

After more poor calls during Sunderland’s defeat to Sheffield United, we asked our writers for their thoughts on whether the video technology ought to be introduced in the second tier

Photo by Michael Driver/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says...

Something needs to change as we’re having issues with the officials too often, but I’m not sure if VAR is the answer at the moment.

I’d have little confidence of it being utilised correctly and until the offside and handball laws are tidied up, all it would guarantee is more problems.

Admittedly, it served us well at Wembley last season and whilst there were no major calls in the playoff final, I think it was simply there as a deterrent. I’m also not sure whether it’s enhanced other competitions, where minor infringements or grey areas get pored over and often take away some of the energy from games.

I accept that the rules need to be adhered to but we’re well past ‘clear and obvious’ and in my mind, it’s spoiling a lot of what makes football so engaging.

I’ve no doubt that VAR will come in eventually but in the meantime, there are some areas where small changes could have a positive impact.

Many incidents are subjective and you’ll never get a consensus, but the more clear cut ones, such as how referees control players or deal with time wasting, are easily addressed.

I’d also like to see assistants being used for more than just offsides and the ball going out of play. There’s also a good argument for some things to be taken out of a referee’s hands so that they can concentrate on other aspects of the game - the clock being one of them.

I know it can come across as sour grapes or bias when fans criticise, but I like to think that most of us are fair-minded enough to know the difference between being a sore loser and having genuine concerns.

It takes a lot to become an official and at grassroots level in particular, they deserve a lot more respect, but we’re also seeing in the Championship that they sometimes don’t help themselves.

Inconsistency and naivety are common, and I’d say they’re much more regular an issue than perhaps getting a snap judgement wrong when you’ve only got one view of an incident.

It’s galling when huge errors are made like they were against Sheffield United, but it’s impossible to get everything right in a game, so there’ll always be complaints no matter what.

My issue with VAR is that it wouldn’t tackle many of the issues anyway, and at present it actually serves to make some of them worse, so whilst I understand those that would be willing to introduce it, I’d still have reservations myself.

Tottenham Hotspur v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by Jon Hobley/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Malc Dugdale says...


If we hadn’t had a decent season so far, poor decisions could be the sort of thing that landed us in a scrap to stay in this league.

Thankfully we aren’t in that position, but that one point away from home would also reinforce more confidence after a poor spell we recently halted in Norfolk, and would also keep us a little closer to the playoffs or upper mid-table come the end of season.

How officials at this level can’t see a blatant offside like the one against Sheffield United is totally beyond me. As a minimum, that linesman needs to go back to flag school and get his eyes tested.

It wasn’t even in open play, and the assistant simply had to watch the line as the free kick came in, spot the player’s foot taking a half swing at the ball, and put his arm up.

I know that VAR has had a mixed reaction in both the Premier League as well as European and world football, but millions of pounds hang on every decision these days.

Clubs can grow and thrive or drop like a stone and even go bust very easily, and the decisions these so-called professional referees and assistants make are a factor in both those situations.

Get VAR into the Stadium of Light and let’s stop this nonsense from ruining decent games of football, which was the case on Wednesday night.

Both teams deserved something from the match and the only thing that prevented it was the appalling judgement of the linesman.

I hope he’s being grilled and will be sanctioned for that, as it was one of the poorest calls I’ve seen in this division, or in our four seasons at the level below.

Phil West says...

I’m very much in two minds on this issue.

On one hand, the ridiculously inconsistent officiating at this level surely can’t go unchecked for very much longer but on the other, the introduction of VAR, as Andrew rightly highlights, could muddy the waters even further, causing more confusion and frustration during games.

Do we want the on-screen grids, lengthy waits for the legitimacy of goals to be confirmed, and the general feeling of games being influenced too much by a man sitting in a booth looking at a multitude of TV monitors, or do we want Championship football to be driven by human decisions, as annoying as they might be?

Let me also state that I don’t blame the officials for our loss against Sheffield United on Wednesday. I thought the Blades were excellent as they hit us with pace, power and accuracy, and the result was fair on the balance of play.

However, it would be nice to go into matches knowing that you’re going to get performances of a high standard from those overseeing the game, and as we saw with United’s second goal which should’ve been disallowed, that simply wasn’t there at a key moment.

One option I’d like to see is an overhaul of the refereeing body, with a new baseline set for expected performances, clarity on the current grey areas of the rulebook, and greater openness.

Apologies after the game simply aren’t good enough, and I like to imagine Tony Mowbray kicking down the door and demanding an answer as to how their latest howler was allowed to stand.

I also think there’s a growing trend of referees who are determined to make themselves the centre of attention and draw people’s focus to them. I call it ‘celebrity refereeing’ and to my mind, it was started by Mike Dean, who always loved the spotlight.

It’s time for that to end. They should turn up, get on with their jobs as efficiently as possible, and that's it.

At the moment, referees and their assistants seem to be escaping scrutiny under the guise of ‘these things even themselves out over the course of the season’, and it’s time to move past that. Let’s have some genuine accountability, and the possibility of officials being censured or demoted if they don’t reach the expected standard.

If that fails, I’d be in favour of embracing the technology, but I’m not fully sold on the idea yet.

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