Once again the use of the Video Assistant Referee system has claimed the bulk of attention as it intervened multiple times in the 2-2 draw between the Wanderers & Newcastle Jets tonight.
The Wanderers stuck to the same starting lineup as their big win over Wellington while Alvaro Cejudo returned from his long injury layoff to take the place of Jack Clisby on the bench. The home side had the better of the opening stages and if not for the VAR they would have opened the scoring after 3 minutes. Marcelo Carrusca played through Chris Ikonimidis and the cultured winger took a touch then beat Jack Duncan to slide the ball home. Until VAR spent 3 minutes reviewing inconclusive slow motion replays and ruled it out for a non called "offside".
Former Wanderers captain Nikolai Topor-Stanley gifted Oriol Riera the chance to open the scoring (again) from the penalty spot. Carrusca combined with the marquee striker to attempt a neat one-two passing movement but as Carrusca made his run into the penalty box he was clearly blocked by the big central defender, drawing the penalty & a yellow card. Riera rolled the ball along the turf into the side netting with Jack Duncan going the wrong way.
The lead lasted just 2 minutes into the second half as the Wanderers defence stood off from Dimi Petratos well inside the penalty area and he fired into the top corner with his left foot.
The VAR got involved again on shortly after an hour. As the Wanderers streamed into the Jets penalty area an underhit pass from Steven Lustica was intercepted by Topor-Stanley and his attempted clearance slammed into Carrusca from a meter away, and it ricocheted straight back into the hands of Topor-Stanley. Once again the VAR intervened to suggest a review from the referee, and with several minutes of slow motion replays from the man in the middle Riera headed to the spot again. Unlike the incident with Robbie Cornthwaite earlier in the season there was no second yellow for Topor-Stanley.
I personally don't believe that a deflection from that close of a distance at the speed the ball was travelling could ever be called a "deliberate" action as the rules require, but we've seen time and again that A-League referees seem to view that rule differently to most of the people watching. In his post-game interview, perhaps in a touch of facetiousness Ernie Merrick suggested he would now train his players to aim at the hands of defenders in the box.
Riera sent Duncan the wrong way again with another sublime penalty and it was 2-1. For less than a minute. Straight from the kickoff the Jets rolled down the field, Nabbout avoided an awful attempted tackle from Steven Lustica, he attempted an audacious outside of the right foot strike from the edge of the penalty area and despite being a shot that 99 times out of 100 would fly into the stands behind the goals this time it tore past Janjetovic into the far top corner for a goal that will end up as one of, if not, the goal of the season.
The VAR came to the rescue of the Wanderers after another inept decision from Peter Green as Jason Hoffman slammed into Janjetovic after the keeper had already put his hands on the ball. Hoffman missed the ball completely and his late shoulder barge forced the ball out into the back of the net. It was overturned not long after.
Both sides had chances to win the game, for the Wanderers it was unfortunate the best of them fell to fullback Josh Risdon, in particular one strong shot on target was palmed away by Duncan for a corner. Neither side would feel happy about the result, and Merrick went ballistic in his post-game interview against both Green and the VAR.
The Wanderers face Sydney FC in the last derby of the regular season on Sunday (good job Foxtel Federation Australia) February 25 at 6:30PM at the Sydney Football Stadium.