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Would A-Leagues fans rather talk about VAR, or the football on the pitch?

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Expert
28th January, 2024
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“My initial thoughts were it was a harsh one,” explained Brisbane Roar’s head coach Ben Cahn after seeing talismanic midfielder Jay O’Shea sent off against the Newcastle Jets.

One of the reasons Video Assistant Referees were introduced to football was to overturn ‘clear and obvious errors’ made by on-field referees.

So did referee Daniel Cook really get it wrong when he brandished a yellow card after the Irishman – who clearly had eyes for the ball – grazed the top of the ball and saw his studs come down on Newcastle midfielder Callum Timmins in first half stoppage time?

There’s no doubt O’Shea’s challenge was clumsy, but was it worthy of a red card?

Ten-men Brisbane went on to concede two quickfire second half goals to a superior Jets outfit, before backing up with a 2-0 defeat to the Central Coast Mariners on Saturday night.

But just how much pressure is Cahn now under as the result of a video review – a point made by former Football Coaches Australia president and current Paramount+ commentator Phil Moss when he tweeted: “Careers of coaches and players matter!”

O’Shea’s sending off in a nondescript Tuesday night game watched by few fans on TV and even fewer in the stands might have gone largely unremarked but for events that took place on Friday night.

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That’s because, not for the first time, the discussion in the wake of a marquee A-League Men’s fixture revolved around a VAR decision.

More than 18,000 fans turned out at AAMI Park on Australia day for the annual clash between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, including a large contingent of travelling Sydney supporters.

And they were treated to a thrilling start, after Victory’s new cult hero Zinedine Machach cancelled out Jordan Courtney-Perkins’ early opener for the visitors.

But then, as happens far too frequently in the A-Leagues, the complexion of the game changed entirely when Sydney FC striker Patrick Wood was sent off in contentious circumstances.

Wood once again only had eyes for the ball when he challenged Victory defender Adama Traore in the 37th minute, with both players flying in to control a high ball.

The Sydney FC attacker wasn’t even looking at Traore but misjudged the flight as he tried to control the dropping ball.

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There’s no doubt Wood had his studs up – he was trying to cushion the ball – and he undoubtedly hit Traore above the ankle.

But after initially not reacting to the challenge, referee Adam Kersey then handed Wood a straight red card after being summoned to review the incident by video assistant Kris Griffith-Jones.

Victory coach Tony Popovic was right when he said after the game that watching incidents in slow motion makes contentious challenges look worse than they are.

But the bigger issue for the Australian Professional Leagues – and it’s worth remembering Football Australia is responsible for the officiating side of the game – is that VAR decisions continue to be the focal point of so many matches.

Is this what VAR was introduced for? Hardly.

But we keep burying our heads in the sand and pretending that what fans really pay money to see is slow motion re-refereeing of games that ruins them as a contest.

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The APL needs to find a way to the steer the narrative around the A-League Men back towards the football.

They’ve at least made some effort, with Macarthur’s 2-2 draw with Perth Glory on Sunday not kicking off until 5pm local time.

It still wasn’t enough to mitigate Campbelltown’s stifling summer heat, with Bulls skipper Ulises Davila admitting it was “very hard” to play decent football in the oppressive conditions.

“It was so hot in the first half, “Davila told sideline analyst Glen Lauder after the game.

“It’s not good to play at this time… for the fans, for the people (in the stands).”

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Whether the APL will look at playing more night matches next season is anyone’s guess.

But like a VAR system that no one seems to think is working properly, we appear to be stuck with a schedule that showcases the worst of the A-League every week.

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