VAR can’t come quickly enough - Chris Boden’s verdict on Everton 2, Burnley 0
VAR is almost upon us.
One more Premier League game to play, before referees will be assisted by technology.
And it is much-needed on Friday night’s evidence.
Clarets boss Sean Dyche can’t wait, and you can’t blame him.
First things first, Burnley didn’t deserve to win at Goodison Park on Friday night, not by a long chalk.
But, having shipped two goals in quick succession after a slow start, the Clarets were enjoying a good spell in the second half - certainly the warning signs were there for Everton - when former Claret Michael Keane was beaten by a flick from substitute Matej Vydra, which took him goalside.
Keane then, somewhat untypically, shoved the Czech forward to the turf with a clumsy challenge.
Referee Chris Kavanagh gave nothing.
Had a quite obvious penalty been awarded, who knows what might have happened, with momentum in Burnley’s favour.
As it was, however, it was a good job the Clarets had next to nothing riding on the result.
Moments later, in front of the dugouts, a less obvious nudge from Vydra on Everton substitute Theo Walcott earned a free kick, and therein lies the inconsistency.
What would be a foul outside the box, isn’t always given inside the box, hence players often having to enhance contact to make sure officials have seen it.
Vydra, as his manager would want, fell naturally, no histrionics, without flicking his heels up in the air and screaming, and he gets nothing.
The Clarets won a penalty at Goodison in April 2017 after keeper Joel Robles brought down Sam Vokes.
Since then, in 80 Premier League games, Burnley have had two spot kicks awarded, both in February this year.
Two, in 80 games...
And given the penalties which have haven’t been given in that time, some of which have been scarcely believable, Dyche hopes VAR will help level the playing field.
The system will only used in four game-changing scenarios: checking goals (and incidents leading to them), penalties, red cards and cases of mistaken identity.
Decisions can be overturned, but only in the case of a "clear error". The referee can request a video review of an incident themselves, or the VAR can notify the referee of an error.
Dyche would like it to go further, to eliminate diving, as he said after the game: “How is it going to be used? Is it going to define dives? I doubt it. Is it going to define moments? Yes, which is still important of course, but the game is in an interesting position at the minute.”
Burnley were desperate for a decision, having found themselves 2-0 down after Everton started at a high tempo and rarely relented in the first half.
It is hard to be critical of the players when, having secured safety with a quite remarkable second half of the season return, they don’t match the standards they have shown when the pressure is off.
But it is a sign that when the Clarets drop off their performance levels even slightly, they struggle.
It is only really once they had been relegated in 2015 that Burnley have picked up results when they effectively had nothing to play for, taking four points from six when the drop was confirmed despite winning at Hull.
In 2017, they took one point from nine after the vital first away win of the season at Crystal Palace, and last year one from six after seventh place and Europa League football was rubberstamped.
As Dyche said: “They’re human beings, they climbed a mountain in the second half of the season.
“People don’t understand the work that’s been done, for the players to put the performances on and score the goals we have - I think we’re fifth highest scorers in the second half of the season - to get the points we’ve got, is a fantastic achievement, so I’m not going to over-question the players.
“On the other hand, you want them to win games, and the winning mentality has seen us right this season.”
So, while it is no easy assignment - nothing is at this level - it would be nice to maintain Arsenal’s recent away travails on Sunday and sign off with a first Premier League win against the Gunners, to end on a high and send Dyche away to work on what lies next.
While it is the oldest squad in the league, with an average age of 28, there is a hint of youth and players at a good age, already with good experience - look at Dwight McNeil (19), Charlie Taylor (25), James Tarkowski and Ben Gibson (26), Robbie Brady and Vydra are both 27, as is Chris Wood.
Most are under 30.
Will he tweak the squad, based on their form over the second half of the season, or look to overhaul it?
Will he look to return to the type of football Burnley produced over the first half of last season, when they were so improved in possession - highlighted by the 24-pass move which led to the winner last time out at Goodison?
Will the finances stretch sufficiently to allow him to bring in the players he wants, and early enough to bed them in in pre-season?
But whatever happens, Dyche has certainly earned his stripes again, coming out the other side of what looked a grave predicament on Boxing Day.
He remains the club’s biggest asset, and you would back him, again, to continue to get things right more often than not.