There were certainly plenty of talking points to come out of Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield to face former club Liverpool for the first time as head coach of Aston Villa.
Whilst it may have been our game plan to keep things tight until around the final 20 minutes when the hosts and their fans would’ve been hugely frustrated, there’s no denying they were all over us and had very good chances to have established a far more comfortable lead before we really woke up and caused them problems following the introduction of Morgan Sanson, Emi Buendia and finally, Danny Ings.
Although that can be argued, ultimately they didn’t take their chances and they couldn’t best an outstanding Emi Martinez between the sticks until they got a huge helping hand from the referee as he awarded a soft, but these days awardable, spot kick against Tyrone Mings. Debating whether Salah actually fouled Mings in the build up is irrelevant and actually misses the point. Those get given these days, and if you accept that, it’s almost criminal the very same referee and VAR team failed to even look at Danny Ings being dragged down, and then Ollie Watkins being bundled over.
If you accept, as football seems to, Salah deserved his soft penalty, then either of those far stronger claims have to absolutely be given in our favour even if it means we effectively stole a point from the Scousers.
Part of football’s emotion rollercoaster is not always getting what you deserve and at other times, getting more than your performance has deserved, but it seems that bit of magic and unpredictability is now systematically being written out of the game with even more selective and contradictory referee and VAR involvement that curiously, very curiously in fact, always seems to only benefit a small number of clubs that we’ll just call the Sky 6 or founder members of the European Super League. It seems unfair to actually name them as it’s not like they put pressure on referees, hound them on the pitch despite the rules or certain managers don’t cleverly put pressure on via the media.
It was annoying when it was more rare occasions and we saw the creation of Fergie Time but it wasn’t just Villa fans bemoaning selective favouritism on Saturday as four of the top six all had debateable and contentious penalties awarded to them when struggling to take a natural advantage.
When hand outs to certain sides become predictable and almost as regular as clockwork, particularly when such help is needed, is it any wonder more and more fans are being turned off from the Premier League and the closed shop those in charge of the game seem to promote.
We see clubs and authorities bang on about the ‘integrity of the game’ often enough, maybe it’s time they really started protecting it as an independent review of referees, decisions and VAR involvement would make for very interesting reading and I can only imagine it would also lead to quite a bit of panic in some corners of the country.
Predictably, that’s probably why there will never be such a review and fans will continue falling out of love with what’s no longer, quite the beautiful game.