Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder admitted he didn’t know whether to “laugh or cry” after a goalline technology blunder forced his side to settle for a damaging 0-0 draw at Aston Villa on Wednesday.
The Hawk-Eye system failed to award a goal when Villa keeper Orjan Nyland clearly carried Oliver Norwood’s first-half free-kick over the line.
Referee Michael Oliver and his officials were unable to intervene and VAR offered no help, leaving Wilder fuming over a decision that dented his team’s bid to qualify for the Champions League.
It was a controversial way for the Premier League to return in the first game since the top-flight was halted in March due to the coronavirus.
Hawk-Eye Innovations, which run the technology, issued a statement apologising for the error, claiming the fact Nyland, Villa team-mate Keinan Davis and the post were in the way meant no camera saw the ball cross the line.
But Wilder insisted it was clear the ball was over and said VAR should have come to the rescue.
“It was in the Holte End, the goalkeeper was in the Holte End and eight rows back. Everyone knew it, saw it and felt it,” he said.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Already the jokes have started. It’s all going to come out but we’re pretty disappointed and we’ve got to get on with it.
“I believe a decision should have been made from Stockley Park (the VAR centre). For someone to tell me with seven cameras and this is the first time it’s happened in over 9,000 games it’s a difficult one to take.
“We’ve got Chris Kavanagh (fourth official), one of the best referees in the Premier League and Michael Oliver possibly one of the best referees in Europe and if you ask them they’ll be scratching their heads over how this situation occurred.
“We believe it should have been referred (to VAR).”
A statement from the Professional Game Match Officials Board explained why VAR did not intervene when the technology failed.
“Under the IFAB protocol, the VAR is able to check goal situations, however, due to the fact that the on-field match officials did not receive a signal, and the unique nature of that, the VAR did not intervene,” they said.
That was no consolation for Wilder, whose team are now sixth, four points behind fourth-placed Chelsea when the gap could have been closer.
It was a narrow escape for second bottom Villa and boss Dean Smith admitted they had been lucky to avoid defeat.
“We got away with one, certainly, with the technology not working. But I’ve been in the other position where technology has not been good for us at times,” Smith said.
“There’s always going to be some error, we have human error from officials and we have to accept that.
“There’s going to be errors in technology as we’ve seen with VAR this season and now for the first time ever with Hawk-Eye. We just have to accept it and move on, there’s nothing else we can do.
“We’re the ones who go away disappointed even with that controversy. The fact that we are just shows that the performance was good. We need to maintain that level.”
The return of top-flight football in England also gave players a platform to back the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.
Just before kick-off at Villa Park Oliver blew his whistle and all 22 players and the officials went down on one knee for around 10 seconds.
Both teams were also wearing shirts with players names replaced by the Black Lives Matter slogan, a gesture that will be replicated across the Premier League for the first 12 games.