Liverpool dumped out of FA Cup by West Bromwich Albion in extraordinary tie dominated by VAR decisions

Liverpool 2 West Bromwich Albion 3: Referee Craig Pawson was a busy man, ruling out a West Bromwich goal, delaying another and awarding Liverpool a penalty because of VAR referrals

Mark Critchley
Anfield
Saturday 27 January 2018 22:14
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Liverpool defender Joel Matip's own goal at the end of the first half proved decisive
Liverpool defender Joel Matip's own goal at the end of the first half proved decisive

It was a night that will spark much new debate but for Liverpool, the bottom line was a familiar one. Jurgen Klopp’s side dropped out of the FA Cup in the fourth round for the third consecutive season because of typical, avoidable mistakes in defence.

That, however, does not tell the whole story of an eventful evening and a memorable victory for an excellent West Bromwich Albion side, who became the first visitors to win at Anfield since last April.

An upset did not seem on the cards when Roberto Firmino opened the scoring early on, but Jay Rodriguez levelled 71 seconds later and then found another to give Alan Pardew’s side the lead after just 11 minutes.

A Joel Matip own goal on the cusp of half-time extended West Bromwich’s lead further and the relegation-threatened outfit ultimately held out to progress, despite Mohamed Salah scoring his 25th goal of the season deep into the second half.

The main talking point from an thrilling night of football, however, would be the new Video Assistant Referee system and specifically, a six-minute period in the first half that is likely to define the debate about VAR’s use for the weeks and months to come.

Even though all of the key decisions it helped referee Craig Pawson to make were correct, the time each decision took and the confusion the new system caused will lead many to question whether this technology, still in its trial stage, is worth continuing with.

Firmino's deft chip gave Liverpool the lead

First, after a delay of around two minutes, VAR ruled out a Craig Dawson header which appeared to double West Bromwich’s lead. In the very next phase of play, and for the first time in English football, Pawson used an on-field review to award Liverpool a penalty, but only after another delay of almost four minutes.

Nevertheless, only four minutes were added on at the end of the first half, but there was still time for VAR to be called on again, with the technology correctly allowing Matip’s decisive own goal to stand, albeit after another two-minute delay. While it may have provided clarity to those watching on television at home, at Anfield there was only confusion, and that made for a chaotic, uneven cup tie.

At the very least, it was entertaining, which is more than could be said for the previous meeting between these two sides on this ground before Christmas. That night, they played out a drab and goalless stalemate but a month on, it took just seven minutes for both defences to be breached.

Rodriguez drew West Brom level

Liverpool struck first, capitalising on a rare moment of hesitation from visiting captain Jonny Evans, who dithered on Chris Brunt’s pass back, allowing Salah to rush in on his blindside and shoot at goal. Ben Foster, West Bromwich’s goalkeeper, dived low to block the effort but did not count on Firmino delightfully chipping the rebound over his head.

The replays of the Brazilian’s sublime finish were still showing on television as Rodriguez pulled the visitors level at the other end. The in-form striker emphatically drilled past Simon Mignolet just 71 seconds on from Firmino’s breakthrough, taking advantage after Georginio Wijnaldum had allowed a cheap turnover of possession in midfield.

It was much the same story a few minutes later when, improbably, Pardew’s side took the lead. This time Emre Can was the culprit, allowing Grzegorz Krychowiak to glide past him and cut through the middle of the park with ease. Kieran Gibbs received the ball unmarked out on the left then crossed for Rodriguez to tap home and bag his brace.

The forward scored two in four minutes

With 11 minutes on the clock it had already been a breathless and breathtaking start, but what followed would come to dominate the narrative of the night.

Dawson believed he had given the visitors a two-goal lead for the best part of two minutes after nodding in from close range off a Brunt corner, but even though the Anfield read 3-1, Pawson wanted a second opinion. Gareth Barry, who had stood square in front of Mignolet as Dawson nodded in, was eventually judged to be interfering with play in an offside position. The goal, thanks to video technology, was ruled out.

It was not long before the technology would rule in Liverpool’s favour again, though the three minutes and 54 seconds that it took Pawson to award a penalty after Salah was hauled down inside the area felt like an age. The VAR instructed him to review a replay of the incident on a pitchside television and, after some lengthy deliberation, he pointed to the spot. Firmino stepped up and duly missed, smacking the ball against the underside of the crossbar.

Having briefly been 3-1 behind, then appearing as though they would draw level at 2-2, Liverpool were in fact still 2-1 down. That deficit would eventually widen in stoppage time at the end of the first half, when Matip bundled Dawson’s teasing cross over his own goalline. The West Bromwich players celebrated, but only did so with confidence once the VAR, after a short delay, confirmed that there was no offside infringement.

There were three uses of video technology in the first-half

This third goal for the visitors was the final significant moment of a remarkable first half. The second was far less dramatic by comparison but no less frantic, as Liverpool sought to claw their way back into a cup tie that, in all the chaos, they had allowed to get away from them. With no clear-cut chances coming before the hour mark, Klopp made a triple substitution and one of those introduced, Danny Ings, believed he had won a penalty after Foster’s challenge from behind. Pawson, though, was unmoved, as was his external assistant.

Liverpool continued to turn the screw and another substitute, James Milner, forced a fine save out of Foster as the match entered its closing stages. The West Bromwich ‘keeper was eventually beaten by Salah a few minutes later, however. The ball fell neatly at the Egyptian’s feet after Alexander-Arnold’s cross bounced off Firmino’s shins and he finished low first-time.

A charged Anfield found renewed hope in those final minutes after Salah’s striker but aside from a modest Virgil van Dijk header in stoppage time, their side failed to sufficiently test Foster again.

When the final whistle sounded, the home side could have no complaints. Much of the post-match talk was of English football’s coming new age, but for all VARs problems, Liverpool had been undone by faults of their own.

Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Moreno; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Ings 65), Can (Milner 65), Wijnaldum; Salah, Firmino, Mané (Henderson 65).

Substitutes not used: Ward, Lovren, Gomez, Solanke.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Foster; Nyom, Dawson, Evans, Gibbs (Hegazi 37); Livermore, Barry (Yacob 71), Krychowiak, Brunt; Rodriguez; Robson-Kanu (Phillips 39).

Substitutes not used: Myhill, Rondon, McClean, Burke.

Referee: C Pawson

Attendance: 53,342

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