Spurs 1, Burnley 0: Chris Boden's verdict on a valiant display at Tottenham

Burnley’s Premier League survival hopes remain in their own hands.

By Chris Boden
Monday, 16th May 2022, 9:30 am

But it was the hand of Ashley Barnes which provoked all the post-game discussion, as the Clarets striker was struck by an innocuous flick from Spurs centre back Davinson Sanchez and harshly penalised.

England skipper Harry Kane gratefully gobbled up the spot kick, winning the battle of wills with Three Lions squad mate Nick Pope, and Tottenham celebrated a hard-fought win which boosted their hopes of earning Champions League football.

However, while the bare facts are that the ball struck Barnes’ outstretched arm, there was more context to be taken into consideration.

English referee Kevin Friend indicates a penalty to Spurs after consulting the pitch-side monitor for a handball after a VAR (Video Assistant Referee) review during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Burnley at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on May 15, 2022. - - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)

Barnes was pulled by Sanchez before the ball hit his arm, the distance between the two was an issue, and - one of the overriding criticisms of VAR - if it takes the thick end of six minutes to come to a decision, how on earth is it a clear and obvious error to miss the handball in the first place?

It took two replays to ascertain whether the ball actually hit Barnes, and it’s debatable whether he changed the flight of the flick.

Ahead of the start of the season, we were told of changes in interpreting what is a ‘deliberate act of handball’, with referees looking for ‘a deliberate action on behalf of the player, with an emphasis on whether the hand/arm is in a natural position or not’, with proximity also taken into account:

Professional Game Match Officials Limited managing director Mike Riley said: "An arm extended away from the body makes that body bigger, in an unnatural position.

"If the ball strikes that arm, particularly if it is blocking a shot on goal, there is a greater likelihood we will penalise that.”

Yes, Barnes’ arm was extended, and by the letter of the law, it is a penalty.

But why was it extended? Because of the pull?

Was his arm in an unnatural position as a result?

It’s dubious in the extreme.

And, the most galling of all, he wasn’t blocking a shot on goal, and Kane ended up sending a good chance wide in the same phase of play.

Mike Jackson said: "I have just watched it back now. I don’t think it is a penalty.

"You have to look at it in context of what has happened before the ball has even come in, it is an 18-yard box, with bodies in it, people competing.

"Someone pulls Ash's arm, he is trying to keep his balance, ball comes in, how he can get out of the way of it, I don’t know.

"You can’t stand in an 18-yard box with your arms by your side. You don’t do that.

"I don’t know if the referee has played football, but you don't do that, your arms are there to protect you and help you move, give you your strength.

"Nobody has even appealed for a penalty.”

Kevin Friend, with Stuart Atwell in his ear, ended up giving it, and a valiant performance ended in no reward for the Clarets.

Bear in mind that, back in October, at home to Norwich, Matej Vydra was forced off, having been caught in the head by an attempted punch clear from Tim Krul, landing on his back and aggravating a niggle that forced him off previously at Leicester.

He was winded and struggled for breath before being replaced, but Friend - and VAR - didn’t deem that a penalty.

Remarkable.

Whatever the why’s and wherefores of those decisions, and whether they cost the Clarets dearly, as Jackson added, he preferred to look at a gutsy performance, where his gameplan frustrated Spurs and could have reaped so much more.

He sprung a surprise by bringing in Matt Lowton in as a third, left-sided centre back, while Barnes started up front with Maxwel Cornet, with Wout Weghorst on the bench for the first time since his arrival in January.

Jackson’s preparation and tactical plan worked a treat as the Clarets stood up to an opening barrage from Spurs, and then grew into the game.

They defended for their lives, in the absence of Ben Mee and James Tarkowski, with Nathan Collins absolutely immense up against Kane, while Kevin Long deserved much credit for coming in again and not letting the side down.

Burnley largely nullified Spurs, who only really opened them up once; in the second half, when they moved the ball quickly across the face of the box, for Ryan Sessegnon to cross for Son Heung-Min, who forced a reflex save from Pope.

Pope also kept out a Son volley with his bicep, but the Clarets had big moments of their own, Collins striding forward to play in Cornet, who couldn’t beat Lloris, while Barnes left the France captain clutching at thin air, only to strike the post flush.

That summed up Burnley’s luck, with the result compounded by a late Leeds leveller against Brighton, as they slipped back into the bottom three.

However, if they can find four points from their last two games, at Aston Villa on Thursday night, and at home to Newcastle on Sunday, they will complete what would be a great escape, bearing in mind their vastly-superior goal difference from Leeds, regardless of what Everton do.