‘One of worst decisions ever’ angers Smith
Villa manager condemns disallowed equaliser Friend under fire over late VAR confusion
Dean Smith admitted he thought he had left behind refereeing decisions like the one that denied his side a point at Crystal Palace when Aston Villa gained promotion into the Premier League.
Kevin Friend’s view that Jack Grealish had dived immediately before the midfielder moved the ball on to Henri Lansbury, who struck what would have been an added-time equaliser, prompted feelings of anger, frustration and confusion for Smith and his players.
“The officials are human and they make mistakes, but they have to be better than they were today, in my opinion,” said the manager, coming to terms with the fact his side had been beaten by Jordan Ayew’s 73rd-minute goal.
“We’ve moved up to a higher level, a higher standard where the players you are playing against are of a higher level and I expect the officiating to be better but that was similar to some of the games in the Championship last year.”
Smith, who thought Friend was inconsistent in his use of the yellow card but had no complaints about the 54th-minute dismissal of Trezeguet for a second booking, certainly had a point about the referee’s late decision and was not alone in the view that his side had been hard done by.
“This is one of the worst decisions I have ever seen in the Premier League,” said Jermaine Jenas, as the Match of the Day pundits picked over the incident.
The lack of clarity about the reason for the match official’s decision, and therefore the extent of video assistant referee involvement, did nothing to ease the confusion in the stadium. The incident was followed by ugly clashes between visiting supporters and stewards and police, who arrested one man on suspicion of affray.
Confirmation came later that Friend had whistled for the diving offence before Lansbury’s shot crossed the line, limiting VAR’S role to an assessment of Grealish’s going to ground and whether the referee should instead have awarded a penalty.
Grealish was encouraged to keep his thoughts to himself as he left the stadium but clearly was not happy. “Sorry, I would talk but I have been told not to,” he said. “I will get myself in trouble.”
Tom Heaton, Grealish’s teammate, was more forthcoming and in no doubt that the match official had got it wrong. “The referee said to us at the end he had a clear view of it, but that is not my opinion,” said the Villa goalkeeper. “I think there were a couple, maybe even three fouls in there, a shove in the back and then Gary Cahill wipes him out. I’m not sure with VAR, when it lands to Henri and it goes in, can you bring it back or not – I am lost on the details.”
As frustrated as Smith was, however, he was unsure how procedures could be improved. “I don’t know what else they can do to change it,” he said. “We’ve got people looking at it in Stockley Park [where VAR decisions are made], what else can we do to change it? We hope that it rights more wrongs than it does and we felt that it didn’t today.”
Nor did it help the manager’s mood that the chaotic final moments at Selhurst Park contributed to the feeling that his side should have more to show for their efforts so far this season.
“Our performances have been OK, with the exception of the opening half-hour at Tottenham,” he said. “I felt we were the better team against Bournemouth and we beat Everton. And we should be leaving here with something as well. So we have been OK, but our points tally isn’t what we would like it to be.”
Heaton will spend the international break with Gareth Southgate’s squad, along with team-mate Tyrone Mings, who has earned a first call-up.
“I’ve said to him if he needs any info on next week or anything he needs to bring, it is always difficult on your first trip on what to bring along or what is going on, so I’ve told him to give me a bell,” said Heaton.
Ayew’s second goal in two games was timely given Roy Hodgson’s admission that he wants to add to his attack in the next transfer window. “We looked dangerous and though we didn’t get the centreforward we were hoping to get in the transfer window, we still have good firepower up front and we still have our powder dry and maybe a player will come up in January,” said the Palace manager.
Bemused: Dean Smith, the Aston Villa manager, reflects on their disallowed goal