Tottenham’s class tells at snowy Wembley after latest VAR farce

Plucky Rochdale blown away in second half as video technology dominates the first

Tottenham Hotspur 6 Rochdale Town 1

It was a game of two halves, but with a twist. Spurs romped home in the second period with a cocky display on a carpet of snow. The first half, however, belonged to VAR. The video assistant disallowed a goal, turned a free-kick to a penalty and provided half a dozen excruciating interruptions in which the referee, Paul Tierney, stood forlornly with his finger in his ear.

As far as the football went, a hat-trick for Fernando Llorente was accompanied by two from Son Heung-min and a first Spurs goal for Kyle Walker-Peters, while Stephen Humphrys scored a sweet goal for Rochdale to temporarily level the scores at 1-1. Talk among the shivering Wembley crowd of under 25,000 though was of technology, its effectiveness, and why it took so flipping long to use it.

The diabolical forces of VAR brought themselves to bear on the game as early as the sixth minute. Spurs thought they had scored the opening goal, as Son’s driving run into the box ended in a cross-shot Josh Ellis could not hold. There was a scramble in the box, Llorente appeared to win it, and the ball came loose to Érik Lamela who turned home.


Celebrations had almost finished by the time Tierney put his finger to his ear. A hush descended and a wait began. Eventually he pointed for a goalkick and the watching crowd slowly tried to work out what had gone on. Replays suggested Llorente’s tussle with Harrison McGahey might have resulted in the Spaniard fouling the defender, or the other way around, or both. Certainly it did not instantly appear Tierney had made a “clear and obvious” error, the criteria VAR is supposed to adhere to.

Rochdale’s hearty travelling contingent were delighted and stranger still was soon to come. Before that though, there was some actual football, Spurs taking the lead through Son in the 23rd minute. Kieran Trippier began the move, threading a pass to the effervescent Lamela. The Argentinian spread the ball wide to Son who cut inside one, two defenders and fired home in the centre of the goal.

Normal service appeared to have been resumed and three minutes later Trippier won a free-kick off Matt Done on the edge of the Rochdale box. But hang on, the finger was at Tierney’s ear again.

Another wait ensued, one so long as to get the entire crowd jeering, before the referee overruled his decision again. Done’s foul had been in the area after all and Tierney pointed to the spot. Son took the ball, stepped up, made a stuttering run which included a complete pause, then scored. Tierney overruled that too, quite rightly, as Son’s pause was against the rules. Son then received a yellow card for his pains and the entire stadium boggled as one.

With Tierney’s finger safely stowed away for a few moments, football was allowed to break out again and Rochdale duly equalised. Confident possession play ended with Andrew Cannon curling a cross beyond the retreating Spurs defence and into the onrushing Humphrys. The midfielder in turn provided his own decisive moment, controlling the ball out of his feet with one touch, firing low and true beyond Michel Vorm with his second. In first half added time, the pair nearly combined again, but this time Cannon put Humphrys’ pass on to the post.

The second half began in heavy snow but Spurs did not take long to warm up. Barely a minute in Moura played a cute exchange with Lamela and then released Llorente, the Spaniard breaking past his marker, lofting his shot over the onrushing Lillis and into the net. The crowd celebrated, then paused; the finger had gone to the ear once more. This time, after another 30 seconds, the goal stood.

Six minutes later and a similar combination sent Spurs two goals clear. This time it was Son exchanging pases with Moura, before the £24m January signing from Paris Saint-Germain again found his striker, Llorente finishing calmly from six yards.

Before the hour was out he had his hat-trick, heading home from inches out with Son the provider this time. In the 65th minute, Son got in on the act again, turning home Lamela’s cross from a Moura pass. This attacking quartet may have barely played together before, but it certainly did not look like it.

Walker-Peters rounded off the action in added time as he exchanged passes with fellow substitute Dele Alli and rolled the ball into the net.

(Guardian service)