How VAR might have affected this season’s Celtic-Rangers title race and the £2m penalty call

Here are five examples where VAR would have potentially affected the outcome of pivotal matches this season…

Dundee United 1 Rangers 1: Ross Graham shirt pull on Fashion Sakala

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With Rangers pushing for a late winner on February 20 following Joe Aribo’s 76th minute equaliser, United defender Ross Graham, who had earlier headed the home side in front, pulled back substitute Fashion Sakala inside the six-yard as the striker prepared to tap home from close range. VAR would have shown that it was a clear penalty and a red card for the centre-half, but it was missed by referee Bobby Madden as Rangers dropped two crucial points in the title race.

VAR will be used in the Scottish Premiership from December 2022 after SPFL clubs voted in favor of the move. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group)

Hearts 2 Celtic 1: Liel Abada ‘offside’ goal

Celtic did not have their troubles to seek in the early part of the campaign, but they may have avoided defeat at Tynecastle on the opening day had VAR been in operation. With the scores level at 1-1, Liel Abada slotted home from close range only for the assistant referee’s flag to go up for an apparent offside against Greg Taylor, who had provided the cut-back. However, TV replays showed that Taylor was played onside by Hearts defender Michael Smith and, with VAR, the goal would have stood and Celtic would have led 2-1. Instead, they went on to lose the match by the same scoreline as Rangers stole an early march in the title race.

With the January 18 match still goalless, Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor raced out to the edge of his box and caught Aberdeen winger Ryan Hedges with his outstretched leg. Referee Kevin Clancy waved play on, but most observers agreed a penalty should have been awarded along with a possible red card for McGregor – something a VAR check would have likely picked up on. To rub salt in Aberdeen wounds, Rangers raced up the other end and scored. An incensed Stephen Glass said afterwards: “It’s an incident that has cost us probably winning the game.”

Rangers striker Fashion Sakala has his shirt pulled in the box by Dundee United’s Ross Graham – no penalty was awarded but VAR would have intervened. (Photo by Rob Casey/SNS Group)

Celtic 1 Hearts 0: Kyogo’s controversial winner

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson left Celtic Park feeling hard done by on December 2 after losing out to Kyogo Furuhashi’s 33rd minute strike, which TV replays later showed to be marginally offside. Even Crawford Allan, the SFA’s Head of Referee Operations, admitted as much in an interview in the aftermath of the game. “It’s one VAR could have helped with,” he said. It was a crucial moment in the season as Celtic’s victory took them back to within four points of leaders Rangers, and five clear of Hearts in third.

St Johnstone 1 Livingston 0: Dan Cleary handball

David Martindale said Kevin Clancy could have cost the club £2million after the official failed to award a penalty for handball against St Johnstone’s Dan Cleary. The referee missed the second half incident which might have seen the Almondvale side escape Perth with a draw rather than a 1-0 defeat in the penultimate match before the split. Afterwards Martindale fumed: “It could be the difference between top six and bottom six – anything between £500,000 and £2m to the football club.”

Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi clips home the winner against Hearts on December 2 – but VAR would have ruled it out for offside. (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group)

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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