James Lawton: Goal that never was proves pressing need to use video evidence

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The Independent Online

It's gone past a joke and it is surely no longer a debate. But then when technological assistance for football match officials is accepted as just another logical part of life in the 21st century, it should not to be difficult recalling when the issue was settled finally.

It's gone past a joke and it is surely no longer a debate. But then when technological assistance for football match officials is accepted as just another logical part of life in the 21st century, it should not to be difficult recalling when the issue was settled finally.

Last night at Old Trafford was when English football surely went past the point of absurdity in its slavish adherence to "human error" refereeing.

The scoreline this morning is a lie. It says "Manchester United 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0". But the truth is different. The score - everybody who saw the match on television knows, and without the benefit of a single rerun - was Manchester United 0 Tottenham Hotspur 1.

United's goalkeeper, Roy Carroll, desperately fumbled Pedro Mendes' lob towards a net that had been temporarily left unguarded and as the ball bounced plainly over the line there were gasps of disbelief when the "referee's assistant" Ray Lewis had plainly missed this vital development.

This surely was the moment when those who say that the referee's authority should be defended at all costs were made to look ultimately ridiculous.

Just a few days after the huge controversy which followed referee Mike Riley's failure at Anfield to act upon the handball of Chelsea midfielder Tiago - an infringement seen clearly by the national television audience - the Old Trafford fiasco is guaranteed to steamroller a final push towards providing match officials with the help of the all-seeing electronic eye.

The Liverpool and Old Trafford incidents between them make an unanswerable case for a much-needed reform.

Chelsea benefited by two points and United by one and if it should happen - though the chance seems to be receding fast - that these teams are in direct contention for the title at the end of the season the winning entry in the record books will be surely require an asterisk.

Never has football been conducted under such pressure; never before has so much money been spent in pursuit of winning the major honours. Yet at the heart of this relentless competition is a ridiculous irony. The more competitive Premiership football gets, the more it is seen to be at the mercy of officiating error ... and as the pressure, generated so strongly by examination of the television cameras, rises so too do the examples of human error.

With the new chief executive of the Football Association Brian Barwick - a former television professional - known to be in favour of a role for a TV-armed fourth official, a huge groundswell for reform has surely now been created.

Tottenham's manager Martin Jol was impressively controlled in his reaction, but he did say that in the 21st century it seemed reasonable to hope for the end of such bizarre injustices. Another huge irony was that this appalling betrayal of football reality came on the day when United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that he had changed his mind on the issue. Yes, he conceded it was time to bring in the cameras.

That his team should benefit from an inability to call up swiftly clinching television evidence is not likely to check the growing professional consensus that it is time to put aside the old belief that refereeing inconsistency and pure wrong-headedness were something that would have to be endured.

The television analyst Niall Quinn was in the perfect position to trigger a debate that soon enough will surely become formal.

He said that in 20 years of playing the game and two years of watching it professionally he had seen never such an official calamity. Yes, he said, it was something to start the rolling of a campaign. Sitting in the studio, Quinn, of course, had 20-20 vision. It is the kind that modern football can no longer afford to disdain. We saw the result of such blindness last night. It made everything that happened at Old Trafford a farce.

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