Ask every Premier League manager what they would like for Christmas and it is a fair bet that most would get rid of VAR.
After the latest pantomime, this time at Nottingham Forest, it seems fair to ask many more howlers it will it take for somebody to admit the system needs a rethink?
Dominic Solanke will not have the praise he deserves for his match-winning hat-trick, with the decisive goal coming in the fourth minute of added time. That is because Nuno Espirito Santo’s first game as Forest manager since replacing Steve Cooper saw his side forced to play for three-quarters of the match with 10 men due to one of the most ludicrous decisions of the season.
When Rob Jones showed Willy Boly a second yellow card for a clean tackle on Adam Smith in the 23rd minute, it was a clear and obvious error and could surely be corrected. Right? Wrong. VAR, you see, is not permitted to intervene on yellow cards and so Boly had to leave the field.
Of course we cannot have VAR judging every booking. It is already ruining the spectacle in its current form. But if it is helpless to act in the face of such a colossal blooper, what is it there for?
Forest fans let Jones know what they thought and so did an angry tweet from the club’s official account at half-time. Forest then took a surprise lead through Anthony Elanga and after Solanke had turned the match around, substitute Luis Sinisterra’s own-goal brought Forest level again in the closing stages. A point would have been an excellent result yet they were denied by Solanke’s precise header.
Boly was perhaps lucky only to be shown the yellow card when he floored Solanke as he raced past him in the fifth minute yet the award of the second yellow was a dreadful misjudgement on Jones’ part.
Charging towards Boly, Solanke shimmied and moved right, only to be denied by a fine interception from the Forest man. Boly leapt to his feet and made a similarly impressive challenge to win the ball from Smith – and was understandably staggered to see Jones marching towards him, yellow card in hand.
Replays quickly showed that Jones had made a howler but because VAR does not have the authority to overturn bookings, nothing could be done to spare Jones’ embarrassment or restore Forest to their full complement.
Earlier, playing in a 4-2-3-1 system, Forest had given a good account of themselves. Chris Wood tricked his way past Marcos Senesi before finishing weakly, and Elanga’s effort from the edge of the box was too close to Neto.
The red card meant Nuno had to tear up his plans. He replaced Divock Origi, who had started wide on the right, with centre-back Moussa Niakhate and switched to a 4-4-1 formation.
Forest players and fans were already bubbling with rage and became even angrier around the half-hour mark. Harry Toffolo’s cross struck Smith on the arm and though the Bournemouth defender looked to be just inside the box, VAR decided there was not enough evidence to ask Jones to reverse his decision.
Jones was booed off at half-time and Forest’s official X account pulled no punches either. ‘Let down badly by awful decisions again, but we go in level’ was their post at the interval.
Forest fans groaned with frustration as they watched the replays at half-time on the screens on the concourse yet early in the second half, they were briefly able to forget their grievance. Alex Scott, who had replaced Lewis Cook in the first half, was caught in possession by Wood. The pass was matched by an excellent finish from Elanga, who guided the ball into the far corner and promptly leapt into the Trent End.
The home side’s joy did not last. Four minutes later, Senesi crossed from the left and Solanke sneaked away from Murillo before sending a looping header over Matt Turner. Turner was at fault for Tottenham’s second goal in Cooper’s final game and at first glance it looked as though he could have done better here.
Bournemouth sensed their time had come. Neco Williams did brilliantly to clear Antoine Semenyo’s effort off the line with Turner nowhere yet the visitors were not to be denied. Philip Billing won a header inside the box and the ball clipped Williams and fell perfectly for Solanke, who slotted into the corner.
That should have been that but Forest were galvanised by Boly’s red card and drew level with 16 minutes left. Morgan Gibbs-White’s corner was met by Wood and would probably have been saved by Neto, had Sinisterra not thrown himself in front of his goalkeeper and headed it into the net. Forest were pushing again and the excellent Gibbs-White’s effort was hacked off the line by Dango Ouattara while at the other end substitute David Brooks struck the outside of a post.
Just when a draw looked the likeliest outcome, Smith crossed from the right and Solanke planted a header into the far corner, with Turner again slow to react. There was to be no third come back and Gibbs-White made a beeline for Jones at full-time. It was not difficult to imagine what was on his mind.