The first weekend of VAR in Scottish football proved to be an incredibly busy one for the officials behind the technology particularly during the match between Hearts and Celtic.
A thrilling 4-3 win for Angle Postecoglou’s side came in a match where the VAR team had to make calls on a number of big decisions including two penalties for the hosts, a disallowed goal for the visitors and a potential penalty for handball not given. As ever, supporters will have tuned into the BBC’s Sportscene highlights programme on the BBC Scotland channel to catch the highlights and one regular pundt has had his say on VAR’s interventions in the match at Tynecastle.
Former Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart believes the technology was crucial in helping referee Nick Walsh reach the correct decision for the first penalty kick as Cameron Carter-Vickers brought down Cammy Devlin in the box. Play was initially waved on to the surprise of many, including Stewart, who said: “Nick Walsh is in the perfect position to see the challenge as it is. Robbie Neilson makes the right comment as far as I’m concerned, make the decision.
“He’s clearly making the decision he thinks is correct that it’s not a penalty which is astonishing. You have VAR as a backup, not as the tool to make the decision. Thank goodness for VAR otherwise you’d have had a stone wall penalty that isn’t given. It’s incredible that Nick Walsh could make the decision to not give a penalty kick.”
There were plenty of other big calls for VAR to make but probably the most controversial of the match was the decision not to award Celtic a penalty for a clear handball by Michael Smith. However, Stewart belives the refereeing team came to the right decision by the letter of the law, saying: “Nick Walsh again is in the perfect position and I think they come to the right decision with this one. You tell me where Michael Smith’s arms are meant to be?
“It’s not a case of not hitting the ball, his arms are in a completely natural position. I can see why some people see this as a penalty because his arms are swinging. The rules are if it’s a deliberate handball, that not’s deliberate, or if he’s making his body bigger - that’s why I interpret it as not a penalty.”