Premier League football is fast becoming a sport enjoyed most by people who like to sit in offices and draw red and blue lines on a screen trying to work out whether or not a fingernail, or in this case a toe, was offside.
But for those who like goals, excitement and passion, or, heaven forbid, actually pay to be inside the stadium, the video assistant referee is sucking the life out of the game.
The Sheffield United players, staff and travelling fans inside Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium had to wait for three minutes and 47 seconds to find out that Jon Moss, the VAR official, had overruled the celebrations of David McGoldrick, who thought he had scored a 60th-minute equaliser.
An hour after the game and there were still debates over whether or not John Lundstram’s toe, or possibly his outstretched arm, had been a centimetre offside in the build up to McGoldrick’s disallowed goal.
That it took so long for Moss to make up his mind, and that several lines had to be drawn on to the replay to try to find an offside, would suggest there had been no clear and obvious error, and the call was far too close to make.
However, for now at least, the Stockley Park nerds are in charge and Graham Scott, the on-field referee, almost looked apologetic when eventually he had to signal that McGoldrick’s goal had been disallowed.
The noisy Sheffield United fans made their feelings on VAR clear with loud chants against it and who could blame them? Fortunately, however, it did not ruin their afternoon as their gutsy team picked themselves up and scored another equaliser that not even the line drawers could rule out.
Manager Chris Wilder’s heart must have sunk when VAR checked George Baldock’s 78th-minute equaliser, but the goal stood to maintain his team’s incredible record away from home.
United are unbeaten on their travels in the Premier League this season and have lost only once on the road in the league during 2019.
“We want to go and score and take the game to the opposition, whoever we’re playing,” said Wilder. “We’re not just waiting to get beat and our performance was one of a team who wanted to go and win the game.”
It certainly was. During a first-half in which the Sheffield United out-ran and outperformed their hosts, Lundstram missed a great chance from an Enda Stevens cross and struck a post.
Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso missed good opportunities for Tottenham, but the home team were second best in the opening period and, after United’s Lys Mousset had shot narrowly wide on the turn, were fortunate to go ahead in the 58th minute.
Dele Alli’s intended pass for Kane was diverted by Stevens straight into the path of Heung-Min Son, and the South Korean scored from close range.
McGoldrick’s goal, from a Stevens cross, came just two minutes later, but when it was disallowed, it looked like it would not be United’s day.
However, Wilder’s side, as they have done all year away from home, refused to accept defeat and got their deserved equaliser with 12 minutes left to play. McGoldrick was involved again as he played the ball down the right for Baldock to gather.
The wing-back’s cross was intended for Chris Basham, who VAR checked for offside, but the ball drifted past the United defender and Eric Dier, and found the back of the net.
“People would have made Tottenham favourites and there is no disgrace getting beat here,” said Wilder. “But I asked the question to the players before [the match]: 16 points would have looked all right after today, that’s a great effort, but are we happy with that? To a man we weren’t and I’m a little bit disappointed, and I think they are, that it didn’t go from 16 to 19.”
Mauricio Pochettino was gracious enough to accept that the visitors deserved their draw, which means Tottenham go into the international break with only three league wins all season and without a victory in four.
They trail Wilder’s team by three points and are already 12 behind Chelsea. Even at this early stage of the season it seems increasingly unlikely that Tottenham will be able to put a run together to make ground on the top four and the supporters who booed their team off at full-time are evidently giving up hope.
“You can see we need to find the balance,” said Pochettino, who revealed Tanguy Ndombele felt uncomfortable prior to his substitution at half-time.
“We are building a team during the season, competing in the Champions League and the Premier League, the toughest league in the world.
“That always is dangerous because this type of situation can happen.
“You expect better results, but you don’t get them. We are in the process to build and we will see if we have the time to build what we want.”