Video referee controversy as Wellington Phoenix beat Beijing BG in friendly
The Video Assistant Referees (VARs) have courted controversy in their first use in football in New Zealand.
Thankfully, it was only a friendly between the Wellington Phoenix and Beijing BG, which the Phoenix won 1-0, but what happened at Westpac Stadium on Tuesday will send shivers down the spine of every coach in the Hyundai A-League with VARs set to be deployed over the final two rounds of the season.
In the 55th minute the Phoenix whipped in an innocuous freekick, which Phoenix defender Ryan Lowry produced a tame header at the end of.
But a blast on the whistle from referee Alan Milliner and the sight of him charging towards a television monitor on the sideline meant there had been an intervention from lead VAR Kris Griffiths-Jones.
He had seen that there had been a tangling of legs between the Phoenix's Dylan Fox and a Beijing defender at the back post. It was clumsy at best and Fox would never have got to the ball, but Milliner watched the footage then charged back towards the Beijing goalbox, made a rectangular television motion with his arms and awarded a penalty.
If that happened in an A-League game, the defending coach would be furious and questioning the unneeded use of technology for a challenge which did not change the outcome of the play, while the attacking one might concede it was a touch soft.
This was the first live trial of the VARs involving an A-League team. It took more than two minutes for a decision to be made and the penalty to be taken, which Kosta Barbarouses converted for the win.
Phoenix co-coach Des Buckingham hadn't seen a replay of the incident so couldn't comment on it, but said it could bring about change with how set pieces are defended going forward.
"If they've got the right decision, which ultimately is what it's all about, if that's the case in the league when they introduce it then you're going to see a lot less shirt pulling and probably a lot more goals from set plays as a result.
"There will probably be more of an emphasis now on making sure they do the right thing more times than not. The holding and grappling and some of the off the ball stuff is something that is going to have to really tighten up."
The two-minute delay to the game was inconvenient but necessary if they right decision was to be made, Buckingham said.
"It felt long, I think when the referee has to come across to the sideline to watch the TV monitor, both sets of players had already reset for the goalkick, but again if it means two minutes to get an outcome, if that's a league game and the difference between three points and one...then we would be happy for the two-minute delay."
Aside from that, the main talking point from the Phoenix was their use of a classic 4-4-2 formation, with Shane Smeltz and Hamish Watson leading the line, and Adam Parkhouse and Roy Krishna alternating down each flank.
The wingers pushed well forward on attack, leaving the team vulnerable on the counter, but Beijing BG rarely looked like exploiting that space.
Buckingham said they might use the formation against Melbourne City on Saturday.
"We'll wait and see how people now pull through. We were missing a couple tonight, we erred on the caution side to have them right for Saturday, but it's definitely another option that becomes available to us."
The Phoenix had the bulk of the chances in a scoreless first half, but their profligacy in front of goal which plagues them at A-League level continued in this match.
Roy Krishna and Hamish Watson were the worst offenders when it came to squandering goal-scoring opportunities.
Despite struggling to hold possession, Beijing had a great chance to take the lead midway through the first half as Austrian international Rubin Okotie sprung the offside trap. His dinked effort sailed harmlessly over Lewis Italiano's goal.
The changes rang out at halftime. Beijing made seven, while the Phoenix brought on five, with youngsters Oliver Sail, James McGarry, Sapreet Singh getting a chance to impress.
The second half was more entertaining than the first, but was overshadowed by the VAR decision.
Before the match, it was confirmed Gui Finkler would miss the next two A-League games after he returned home to Brazil following the birth of this first child.
AT A GLANCE
Wellington Phoenix 1 (Kosta Barbarouses 57' (pen)) Beijing BG 0. HT: 0-0.