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VARcial

There is only one place to start after last night’s events. The awarding of a generous penalty, which risks incentivising the sort of simulation that has gradually infested the once beautiful game, and a sending off immediately transformed a fixture that Fulham were comfortably in control of. You might be able to construct a case for Callum Wilson going to ground under Joachim Andersen’s initial challenge but any forward worth their salt will look to gain as a big an advantage as possible and – unless you are Fulham – there’s nothing more likely to bring a goal than a penalty kick.

It was astonishing to hear Andy Hinchcliffe, an uncompromising defender who had little time for wingers who made the most of challenges in his playing days, decide that it was a clear penalty well before the video assistant referee’s checks were completed. I was ready to head to Bernard Castle to test my clearly failing eyesight until both Jermaine Jenas and Alan Shearer were unequivocal in seeing the matter differently to Sky’s pundits on Match of the Day. If a system supposed to reduce refereeing blunders cannot rectify a mistake of such magnitude, then there is no point having it. When it results in not just a contentious spot-kick but a red card, you must conclude it isn’t going to be your day.

Fulham’s first taste of VAR has been pretty bittersweet. Whilst Danny Welbeck’s handball was punished retrospectively on Wednesday night, Scott Parker’s side have been on the end of more than a few questionable decisions. Aleskandar Mitrovic’s challenge at Bramall Lane would not have resulted in a spot-kick prior to the introduction of technology and I’ve still not seen a reasonable explanation for why Sebastian Haller standing two yards offside at the London Stadium didn’t rule out Tomas Soucek’s goal for West Ham. Fabinho’s challenge on Ivan Cavaleiro at Liverpool contained far greater contact with the forward than either Andersen’s on Raheem Stirling or Wilson and yet only a corner was given. If these things really do even themselves out over the course of a season, then Fulham are due an awful lot of good fortune before May.

There also needs to be some discussion of why it is that the referees are shown worse camera angles on the pitchside monitors than television viewers watching from their armchairs. You would think that there would also be a case for allowing people to hear the dialogue between the referee and the official employed to ratify or recommend a reversal of their decisions, but given that the Stockley Park protocols are more closely guarded than matters of national security, I suspect such a suggestion would be met with the shortest of shrift.

Having once been a referee myself, I am loathe to castigate an official but the performance of Graham Scott and his assistants posed plenty of questions. Both Antonee Robinson and Mario Lemina could consider themselves unfortunate to be cautioned and, even allowing for the confusion generated by the interpretation of the reworked handball law, Scott’s mimicry of Mario Lemina’s disbelief at his decision after Ciaran Clark’s handling in the penalty area in the final minute of normal time was extraordinary.

Scott Parker spoke impressively in the immediate aftermath of events with a candour and measured tone that many more experienced managers frequently fail to match. He has the right to feel aggrieved about a turn of events that robbed Fulham of a commanding position but, being the perfectionist he is, will also question the sequence of efforts that led up to that pivotal penalty. Ola Aina’s squandering of possession in such an advanced position was criminal and Andersen’s own decision making in the fretful seconds prior to Wilson’s theatrics left plenty to be desired. Parker’s side are far from clinical in the final third, but the temperament and desire that ensured Fulham would not be beaten even after being reduced to ten men would have given him plenty of pleasure.

Parker: ‘The game’s changing drastically and not for the better’

Scott Parker was furious by the award of a contentious penalty and a red card for Joachim Andersen that arguably cost Fulham a win at Newcastle this evening.

The Fulham head coach disagreed with the decision of referee Graham Scott and the video assistant referee Andy Madley and fears for the future of the sport given the way that the technology is now being used. Speaking to Sky Sports after the final whistle, Parker said:

I’ve had a look at it. This isn’t me trying to defend it, but the contact is initially outside the box, he then goes into the box and dives. The game is changing drastically and it isn’t changing for the better. Two years ago, I get it at real speed. What’s puzzling is that we have VAR, I’m not sure if he’s seen a different angle to me.

I’m disappointed we didn’t take three points. I thought the team was fantastic though. Second half, the penalty decision has decided the game.

Fulham fight for a point after more VAR controversy

Fulham showed commendable character to pick up a point at St. James’ Park after being reduced to ten men and conceding a contentious penalty, but Scott Parker will feel they deserved more. Joachim Andersen’s dismissal for hauling down Callum Wilson, who converted the spot kick, may rob the Cottagers of their most commanding defender and the visitors will aggrieved about the award of a penalty, when the initial contact that sent Wilson tumbling theatrically was well outside the box.

That decision, which went to the video assistant referee and was upheld, completed changed the complexion of a contest that Fulham had comfortably controlled. The visitors made the more assured start, dominating possession, but couldn’t find a telling finish in the final third until Matt Ritchie turned Toisin Adarabioyo’s header into his own net from a corner just before half-time. The returning Tom Cairney squandered a couple of good shooting opportunities from the edge of the box and Ademola Lookman might feel he could have done better than head a floated cross from the excellent Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa straight at Karl Darlow.

Fulham’s top scorer Bobby Decordova-Reid couldn’t continue his fine form in front of goal when he screwed a shot wide on the stretch having been released by a floated through ball from Mario Lemina. But the Cottagers ensured they didn’t head in at half-time empty handed when Lookman’s deep corner was headed back across goal by Adarabioyo. Decordova-Reid’s dummy befuddled Ritchie on the goal-line and the ball went into the net off his face.

Newcastle had much more of the ball after the break, but Parker’s back five nullified their threat effectively. Steve Bruce has been robbed of a number of key players through an outbreak of coronavirus and wanted a reaction after they were blown away by Leeds in midweek. Darlow denied Cairney a second from a Fulham long throw, but Newcastle’s lifeline came when Ola Aina surrendered the ball far too cheaply high up the pitch and Almiron played in Wilson for the game’s decisive moment.

Bruce was critical of his side’s failure to carve out clear openings once Fulham went down to ten men. Parker sent on Michael Hector to try and weather the coming onslaught, but his side actually carried the more potent threat. Lookman and left back Antonee Robinson linked effectively to create space in the box with Darlow beating away the winger’s drive. At the other end, Areola bravely dashed off his line to thwart Joelinton as the Brazilian burst through on goal and Adarabioyo stood firm to win several crucial headers in the closing stages. Fulham might have had a penalty at the death, when Ciaran Clark handled as Anguissa surged into the area but referee Graham Scott waved the appeals away.

The point elevates Fulham above the relegation zone again, albeit possibly only for a few hours before Burnley are in action on Monday, but three consecutive draws have all showed how successfully Parker has made his team much tougher to play through. The Whites will face a serious test against swashbuckling Southampton at Craven Cottage on Boxing Day, but they should at least approach the festive period with plenty of confidence that they belong at the highest level.

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-1-1): Darlow; Yedlin, Dummett (Fraser 79), Fernandez (Hayden 45), Clark; S. Longstaff, Shelvey, Ritchie, Almiron; Joelinton (Gayle 75), Wilson. Subs (not used): Gillespie, Krafth, Lewis, Hendrick, J. Murphy, Carroll.

BOOKED: Clark.

GOAL: Wilson (pen 64)

FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Areola; Aina, Andersen, Adarabioyo, Robinson; Lemina, Anguissa; Decordova-Reid, Lookman (Bryan 90+4), Cairney (Hector 65); Mitrovic (Loftus-Cheek 77). Subs (not used): Rodak, Odoi, Ream, Reed, Cavaleiro, Kamara.

BOOKED: Cairney, Robinson, Hector.

SENT OFF: Andersen (62).

GOAL: Ritchie (o.g. 42)

REFEREE: Graham Scott (Oxfordshire).

VIDEO ASSISTANT REFEREE: Andy Madley (West Yorkshire).

Coleman calls for video replays

Chris Coleman has joined the growing number of managers calling for video replays to be introduced in the Premiership.

Coleman was baffled by ref Graham Poll’s failure to award Fulham a penalty during his side’s 3-2 defeat at Chelsea yesterday.

Poll signalled for a corner despite Blues skipper John Terry clearly blocking a shot with his hands in the penalty area.

Coleman refuses to condemn match officials for making mistakes but admits the time is right to give them a helping hand.

He said: “Referees need help – they need video evidence because the game is played at such a pace.

“It’s nuts that referees do not get more help to clear things up.

“A lot of people think we would be opening up a can of worms but we wouldn’t – there would be a happy medium we could strike.”