Match Officials Mic'd Up: Webb analyses key incidents in MW30-35

30 Apr 2024

PGMOL's Howard Webb explains decision-making process for Forest's penalty appeal at Everton and more

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Match Officials Mic'd Up Pt 7: Webb analyses key incidents in MW26-29

PGMOL and the Premier League are opening up discussions between the referee and the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for key incidents this season. In the latest instalment of "Match Officials Mic'd Up", Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, the organisation that oversees the League’s match officials, discusses five recent incidents.

Webb and Michael Owen go through the conversation between the match officials to give fans greater knowledge of how decisions are made. The officials on the pitch do not hear all the conversations from the VAR hub in Stockley Park. 

The incidents covered are:
- Nott'm Forest's penalty appeals v Everton
- Brighton's penalty appeal v Brentford
- Wolves' overturned goal v West Ham
- Spurs' penalty appeal v Arsenal
- Burnley's penalty appeal v Man Utd

Nott'm Forest's two penalty appeals v Everton

Owen: "A game that generated a lot of headlines."

Webb: "It did, mainly centered around three penalty decisions. Nottingham Forest thought that three situations should have led to the award of penalty kicks for them. We're going to talk about the third of those in a moment.

"The first two we felt were really subjective calls. The first one involving some contact from Ashley Young on Gio Reyna. There was contact. The referee saw that but didn't feel it was impactful enough to penalise. We've set quite a high threshold for penalising contact all over the field really, but also in the penalty area. It's what the game has asked us to do.

"Not every single contact is a foul and this was one where there was quite minimal contact, consistent with other situations that we've waved away this season. The VAR quite rightly checked that one.

"The second one was a handball penalty situation. Ashley Young involved again. The ball hits his arm. He's moving as he tries to close a shot down from short distance and the referee deemed that the arm was in a natural position and the VAR check completed that one as well - quite understandably, in this subjective zone of handball. So we thought that both of those situations were in line with our expectations."

Forest's third penalty appeal v Everton

Incident: Everton's Ashley Young goes into a challenge with Nottingham Forest's Callum Hudson-Odoi in the match at Goodison Park. Young attempts to play the ball inside his own penalty box and there is a tangle of legs.

What the match officials did: Referee Anthony Taylor believes Young plays the ball. VAR officials Stuart Attwell and Simon Long believe there isn't sufficient contact by Young to overrule Taylor's decision, nor call on him to review it.

Owen: "Everyone I’ve spoken to thinks that was a penalty. Explain how VAR came to that decision."

Webb: "I understand why we would have preferred an intervention on this situation. The referee waves away the penalty appeal. The VAR looks at it and asks himself the question, 'Was the non-award clearly and obviously wrong?' and came to the conclusion it wasn't. You hear him describing two players tussling for the ball. He doesn't see a clear action by Young that he considers to be worthy of intervention, one that reaches the threshold of being very clear.

"But we would have preferred an intervention for the referee to go to the screen to make a judgement for himself in this situation and probably would have come out with a different outcome if that would've happened."

Owen: "OK, during that audio, we hear Anthony Taylor mention that he thinks the ball was won by the defender Ashley Young. When the VAR quite clearly sees the ball isn't won, shouldn't that just straightaway instigate, 'Right, you've seen it wrong. Go to the monitor,' or not?

Webb: "We did hear Anthony Taylor in the footage there say that he believed the ball had been played by Ashley Young, and we know that's not the case. We know only Callum Hudson-Odoi touches the ball. The first job of the VAR is to look at the footage available and make the judgement, 'Was the on-field decision clearly wrong?' You could have a situation where the referee describes that the ball has been played by the defender. But actually when the VAR looks at it, sees that's not the case, but it's still not a penalty. It might be that the attacker has simulated, for example.

"So you can't only rely on what the referee is saying to make the judgement of whether something is clearly and obviously wrong. But if there's a VAR, you're looking at it thinking, 'Is it clearly wrong or not?' You can absolutely factor in what the referee says as well. And if there's a particular aspect like, 'Who's played the ball?' it's an important aspect that can be factored in to give the confidence to the VAR that, 'Yes, the referee needs to go to the screen because I believe this is clearly and obviously wrong.'

"And that's what should have happened on this occasion. But primarily they're there to look at the footage and form an opinion. Is the on-field decision clearly wrong in their professional judgement? We would have preferred such an intervention in this case."

Owen: "Players make mistakes. Goalkeepers, referees, everyone makes mistakes. But on the referee's side of things, how can you prevent things like this happening in the future? Or do people just have to accept that mistakes will be made?"

Webb: "Yeah, the game is played by human beings, it's officiated by human beings. And obviously our job is to try to ensure that we have a positive impact on the game by identifying correct decisions on the field. This wasn't one. And then when that doesn't happen, the VAR consistently recognises when an error has happened on the field and steps in.

"But of course they're humans making judgements as well so we always are trying to reduce the number of errors that we make. We get together on a regular basis more than ever before with our VARs to train. We share loads of information online. We give guidance to the officials, we share discussions around why something didn't work out in the way that it should. And then ultimately we share that final information to try to ensure that the learning is taken out of every situation and, year on year, reduce those number of errors to the minimal amount that we can."

Brighton's penalty appeal v Brentford

Incident: Pascal Gross delivers a corner into Brentford's penalty box and both Lewis Dunk and Yoane Wissa have a hold of each other. Dunk initially has a hold of Wissa, before the Brighton player goes down appealing for a penalty.

What the match officials did: Referee Andy Madley waves away Brighton & Hove Albion's appeal. VAR officials Stuart Attwell and Simon Long then send Madley to review the incident in the Referee Review Area (RRA). After review, Madley keeps his initial decision of not awarding a penalty to Brighton and then restarts play with a free-kick to Brentford.

Brighton's penalty appeal v Brighton #1
Brighton's penalty appeal v Brighton #2
Brighton's penalty appeal v Brighton #3
Brighton's penalty appeal v Brighton #4

Owen: "OK. We've got something a bit different now. A video review that didn't result in an overturn from Brentford against Brighton.

"So they didn't give a penalty in open play. VAR then had a look at it. He thinks that [the referee] should give a penalty when he re-looks at it. Why then are we wasting a bit of time going to the monitor and all that entails?

Webb: "Yeah, it's a good question. It's an unusual situation. I think some people thought that the referee went to the screen and just rejected it, thinking it wasn't a penalty when the VAR did. That's not what happened. So on the field the referee didn't recognise any offences at all. The VAR knows there's an appeal for a penalty, so checks that and sees that Yoane Wissa is clearly holding Lewis Dunk and deems that that's sufficient for a penalty kick, and the non-award of a penalty kick is clearly wrong.

"But of course, on every situation we check the attacking phase of play before a penalty kick or a goal, for example. And when the VAR checks the attacking phase, he can see a clear offence by Dunk on Wissa before the penalty offence. So the VAR then sends the referee to the screen to have a look at the full sequence, because the referee makes the final judgement on all aspects.

"And of course there's benefits of doing that as well, because imagine the situation where the stadium, the players have seen a very clear penalty offence that's not given on the field, doesn't go to review. They don't know why. There's a good reason why it's not a penalty because there's a foul before but that might not be apparent to people in the stadium.

"So by sending the referee to the screen, he can make the final judgement on the full sequence. And it tells everybody that the penalty offence that was waved away has been looked at by the VAR. The referee has gone to the screen to have a look at a full sequence and can also make a judgement on the first part of it, which is the reason why the penalty isn't given."

Owen: "You touched on quite an interesting point there because if you're sat at home, you're following the narrative a little bit but if you're in the stadium, sometimes you're thinking, 'What's going on here?' How can we improve that stadium experience for people?"

Webb: "It does need improving, doesn't it. When you hear the clips on shows like this it makes sense what's happening. It all becomes apparent and actually you'll hear the referee, Andy Madley, having been to the screen saying, 'I’m going to speak to Lewis Dunk to explain why the penalty that he feels he should have isn't going to happen because he's fouled Wissa before that.' We're looking at ways to improve the in-stadium experience.

"One of the things you'll have seen maybe in FIFA tournaments, like the Women's World Cup, is announcements from the referee once they've been to the screen. So we're looking at that, we're keeping an open mind about whether that's something we could utilise in the Premier League. For situations like this it would be really useful for the referee to be able to speak to all of the people in the stadium - [to explain] the rationale for why you didn't give a penalty because of the foul that happened before the penalty appeal when Dunk fouled Wissa."

Wolves' overturned goal v West Ham

Incident: An inswinging corner is sent in and Wolverhampton Wanderers' Max Kilman heads the ball into the net.

What the match officials did: The goal is awarded on-field by referee Tony Harrington. The VAR reviews the incident and sees that Tawanda Chirewa is stood in an offside position and impacting West Ham United goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski's line of sight. They then send Harrington to the RRA, and after review he changes the on-field decision to a free-kick for West Ham for offside.

Wolves offside v West Ham #1
Wolves offside v West Ham #2
Wolves offside v West Ham #3
Wolves offside v West Ham #4

Owen: "A lot of strong views expressed after that goal, Howard. Explain why that was the correct decision in law."

Webb: "The goal was disallowed for an offside offence interfering with an opponent. In this case, Chirewa of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the line of vision of the goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski. You can see there on the footage that is really close proximity to Fabianski right in front of him and in an offside position. He positions himself there from the corner but doesn't get back into an onside position when Kilman heads the ball forward. He remains offside and he's therefore penalised for that offence."

Owen: "Somebody like me that likes seeing goals would say that the goalkeeper's never in a million years going to save that regardless of if someone's in his line of vision or not. Does that not wash in terms of when a referee's trying to decide whether it's onside or offside?"

Webb: "We're certainly not here to try to take goals away if we don't need to, but we are pretty consistent here and all over the world in terms of how we judge these types of situations. When you have an offside position player so close in front of the goalkeeper, the established understanding on these is that it has some impact on the ability of the goalkeeper to react. We don't want to be in a world of making judgements of how good the goalkeeper is. Sometimes the ball's quite close to the goalkeeper, sometimes further away. How quickly that goalkeeper normally reacts, how good he is at making those saves is not something that we really want to judge. We can judge the factual matter of the fact that Chirewa is in the line of sight, the goalkeeper really close, really in front of him and also in an offside position. Therefore when we see these situations we expect them to be penalised every time."

Owen: "Can you understand why people would get frustrated in that scenario? Most of me says, 'Yeah, it is offside, but it was a really good goal.' Can you understand that or do you have to be hard with the law?"

Webb: "I think we want consistency don't we? And we want people to understand through an expectation of what will happen in certain circumstances. We've seen other examples like this in Burnley against Manchester United this season. Crystal Palace, Burnley, almost the same situation where goals are disallowed. And of course, I understand the frustration. This is the last minute. This is an equalising goal that is then celebrated and then through the VAR intervention taken away. But it is in line with the way the laws of the game are applied all over the world. If you stay in that offside position right in front of the goalkeeper, you're going to have an impact. And most goalkeeping people I’ve spoken to at least expect this to be to be penalised."

Spurs' penalty appeal v Arsenal

Incident: The ball breaks to Ben Davies and as he goes towards it, Arsenal's Declan Rice, in an attempt to clear the ball, catches the Tottenham Hotspur defender.

What the match officials did: Referee Michael Oliver waves away Spurs' appeal for a penalty. The VAR reviews the incident and says Rice strikes Davies and does not make contact with the ball. Oliver is sent to the RRA and changes his decision, awarding a penalty to Spurs.

Spurs penalty appeal v Arsenal #1
Spurs penalty appeal v Arsenal #2
Spurs penalty appeal v Arsenal #3

Owen: "Well a penalty given that would never have been given without VAR. I presume you're very happy with the efficiency and everything that happened there."

Webb: "Yeah, it was nice and efficient. it's a clear and obvious error not to give the penalty. I know Michael [Oliver] will be really disappointed."

Owen: "And he had a good game apart from that one."

Webb: "He had a really good game. He's one of our top referees, he's one of the top referees in the world. He's been selected for the Euros in Germany this summer, together with seven other English officials, and he had a really, really good game in the way he managed it. But I know you'll be disappointed he misread that in the moment and we all can misread things in the moment. I did that many times myself. But thankfully we've got VAR that can look at these situations very quickly. You'll hear Jarred Gillett at the VAR check it, stop the game in a neutral zone so nothing else can happen.

"For example, we don't want a goal scored at the other end and then having to take that away as well. Stop the game as soon as possible. Michael went to the screen, looked at it, quickly saw the error and gave a penalty. And as you say, without VAR this would have stayed as a non-awarded penalty. It would have been hugely controversial. So a really good use of the VAR facility here."

Owen: "Yeah, we'll have another look at it here. Slowly. You see Michael Oliver is in a great position to see it. Two things though that you just briefly touched on, Howard. One, you notice the VAR actually tells Michael to stop the game and how efficient that is, and then secondly how quickly Michael Oliver goes to the screen and then reverses the decision almost straight away. Do you like that in terms of how efficient and quick it is? Or do you think, 'Oh, just make sure you take your time here.' "

Webb: "Yeah, I understand when you're in the stadium, the longer something takes the more difficult it is to accept really. You want it to be efficient, you want it to be quick. VAR is meant for clear errors and therefore something should jump off the screen quickly and we should be able to rectify it quickly as well. So we're always working on being more efficient for the experience of the fans in the stadium.

"We saw earlier an error. We try to reduce the errors. We don't want to get it wrong. We don't want to sacrifice accuracy for speed. But if we can be accurate and quick at the same time then I think we all can see the benefits of the way that VAR is accepted when that happens."

Burnley's penalty appeal v Man Utd

Incident: Manchester United midfielder Casemiro heads the ball back towards his own goal and goalkeeper Andre Onana comes out in an attempt to punch the ball clear, but he catches Burnley's Zeki Amdouni

What the match officials did: Referee John Brooks does not award a penalty and the ball goes out for a corner. VAR official Peter Bankes tells Brooks to delay the restart. Bankes believes it should be a penalty and sends the referee to the RRA. After review, Brooks awards a penalty to Burnley.

Burnley penalty appeal v Man Utd #1
Burnley penalty appeal v Man Utd #2
Burnley penalty appeal v Man Utd #3
Burnley penalty appeal v Man Utd #4

Owen: "Howard, I'm sure you couldn't have scripted this any better. The very first show that we did was on Onana against Wolves. Very, very similar action taken by him there. And full circle, learnings have been proven to have come to fruition here."

Webb: "Yeah. Like we talked about earlier, when we make an error, we look at why and what we can do better. We share all of that learning with our group, having discussed it with them. And we acknowledge that, that situation in week number one at Old Trafford should have led to a VAR intervention and didn't. This is very similar - Onana coming out and not making contact with the ball, making heavy contact with his opponent, not seen by the referee on the field. He sees [Aaron] Wan-Bissaka head the ball away but doesn't see the contact on Amdouni and the VAR sees that pretty quickly.

"It's a clear error not to award the penalty kick, and therefore recommends that the referee looks at it at the screen for himself and sees that heavy contact. And it is a penalty kick and there's no support for non-award of a penalty. Hence the reason it's a clear error. And we called it correctly and it's pretty efficient as well. So another good use of VAR. And thankfully this one was called correctly."

Owen: "No question of a red card? Dangerous play? He almost gets punched or an arm straight in the face."

Webb: "I think there's a recklessness to it. On the day he wasn't cautioned. I think that that would have been the right outcome to show a yellow card as well, for a reckless action. I don't think it's serious foul play. I don't think there's excessive force or brutality in that challenge, but there's an element of recklessness. And that would normally lead to a yellow card."

Glossary of terms

VAR: Video Assistant Referee; AVAR: Assistant Video Assistant Referee; RO: replay operator; APP: attacking phase of play.

UK users can watch the whole "Match Officials Mic'd Up" video on Sky Sports and TNT Sports. International users can access the full video with their local rights-holder.

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