'VAR isn’t utopia' - Ex-referee explains the difference between this controversial Newcastle United and Leeds decision

Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher has explained why VAR did not award Newcastle United a penalty for James Tarkowski’s high-boot on Sean Longstaff in the 2-1 win at Burnley.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 3:17 pm

Steve Bruce’s side were trailing 1-0 when Tarkowski booted the Geordie midfielder in the face when clearing Bailey Peacock-Farrell’s near-post save from Dwight Gayle.

The incident was checked by VAR, who decided to side with referee Anthony Taylor’s on-field decision that it was not a spot-kick.

Gallagher hinted that Taylor had got the decision wrong, but explained why VAR chose not to overrule him.

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Newcastle United were controversially denied a penalty against Burnley following James Tarkowski's high boot on Sean Longstaff.  (Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Newcastle United were controversially denied a penalty against Burnley following James Tarkowski's high boot on Sean Longstaff. (Photo by JON SUPER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

He told Sky Sports’ Ref Watch: “When I was watching it live, my gut reaction was penalty and when it went to VAR, I thought it’d be given as a penalty.

"There’s no doubt (James) Tarkowski gets the ball first, he doesn’t know where Sean Longstaff is. I think it is certainly reckless.

“That said, he has to touch the player for it to be a foul in that situation. Anthony Taylor wasn’t convinced and the VAR looked and sided with the referee.”

Gallagher was then asked to compare the incident to another high boot on Longstaff in the second-half – which was awarded as a free-kick.

He added: “The difference is the referee got this one right. It’s a foul. I said I thought the first one was a foul, I think that’s a foul.

"What I would say about consistency, do you want the referee to not to give that and keep not giving it and keep being consistently wrong or go ‘hang on, I’ve recognised this one, I’m going to give it right’.”

Gallagher argued the penalty claim wasn’t a “clear and obvious” error by Taylor, hence why VAR sided with Taylor.

Had a spot-kick been given however, Gallagher doubts that VAR would have overturned the decision.

He said: "VAR fell in line with the referee. The referee will tell the VAR what he’s seeing, how he feels about it and the VAR has to decide whether they think the referee, based on what he said, has made a clear and obvious error.

"The VAR is not there to judge whether the referee has got it right or wrong. It’s there to judge whether the referee has made a clear and obvious error and on that basis, it didn’t think so.

"What I would say, if the referee had given a penalty there, there’s a fair chance the VAR wouldn’t have overruled it.

"What you have to remember is, VAR isn’t utopia.”

The decision was compared to Liam Cooper’s sending off for Leeds United during their shock 2-1 victory at Manchester City.

Replays showed, similar to Tarkowski’s, that the defender got the ball first in a tackle with Gabriel Jesus, though was dismissed for endangering an opponent.

Gallagher explained the difference: “If you look at Tarkowski – he goes to play the ball. He has no idea that Longstaff is there.

"When Cooper goes to play the ball, he knows exactly where Jesus is. His point of contact is very high with the studs leading. It’s excessive force.

"It’s impossible to compare those two incidents and say he played the ball first because you’re not comparing apples with apples.”

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