We won the game, so this is not sour grapes, and the goal which gave St Johnstone the lead was a lesson in defensive failures: Matt O’Riley should have cleared the ball, Joe Hart should have commanded his six yard box, both carry a lot of responsibility for the goal.
However, Matt had to break free from a shirt hold to even get to the ball and the St Johnstone player who won the ball one yard in front of goal did so with his arm, which was fully extended from his body. There is no need to fire off into a ‘They’re all against us’ rant, this may well be true, but it does not matter. What is without doubt is that our refereeing and video assisted refereeing is not good enough.
There is so much shirt pulling in the game that referees and VARs could effectively decide the outcome of any game they choose. Sometimes it is punished, on other occasions it is not. Matt O’Riley was ‘unlucky’ in this respect yesterday.
The handball rule is clearer. Play the ball with your hand or arm when it is extended from your body inside the box, and you can expect VAR to get involved. It is inexplicable that such an event led to the opening goal yesterday.
VAR has not made our game worse, it is not the thing that has enabled one team to benefit, what it has done is turn the spotlight onto something which has been going on for a century. We need VAR because we need its spotlight in order to drive improvement. There was no way referee Don Robertson could be accused of turning a blind eye to yesterday’s handball. He was unsighted and it happened too quick.
The VAR on the other hand? It is just not good enough. The SFA are trolling us if they pretend otherwise. And for the record, I don’t believe the apparent randomness of outcomes is random.
It is a great benefit to know what your opponent will do. Celtic absolutely know what our next several opponents will do at corner kicks. They will put a wide-bodied player on Joe Hart. Unless things change, Greg Taylor will attempt to out-muscle that player and prevent him from inhibiting Joe. Joe will be unable to command his six-yard box. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood of a goal being scored is far higher than the paltry 3% industry standard.
Armed with this knowledge, we should never be fragile from a similar situation again.