“I think it’s sad for the game” – Mariners left bewildered after VAR-influenced defeat

Central Coast Mariners’ coach Nick Montgomery has expressed his bewilderment with two controversial VAR rulings that marred his side’s 3-2 loss to Melbourne City on Tuesday evening. 

Up 1-0 thanks to Beni Nkololo’s goal with seconds remaining in first-half regulation, the Mariners were pegged back by City in injury time after Jamie Maclaren fired home a penalty awarded after referee Shaun Evans adjudged Kye Rowles to have brought down Marco Tilio just inside the penalty area. 

Both the naked eye and replays seemed to indicate that the Mariners defender had made first contact with Tilio well outside the penalty area, with a secondary contact occurring as Tilio attempted to unsuccessfully tried to remain on his feet before falling over inside the area. 

That was enough to prevent Evans from overturning the penalty after an extended VAR check. 

Attempting to put the drama behind them, both sides would net in the second stanza to leave the contest poised at 3-2 to City heading into the final five minutes, before the Mariners had shouts for a late penalty when Mat Leckie brought his studs down on the foot of Lewis Miller – who would subsequently be subbed off with a gash in his foot – inside the area as he unsuccessfully attempted to lay a tackle.

However, with Evans waving play on it fell to the VAR to intervene if the Mariners were to be awarded a spot-kick but, after another lengthy review of the screen on the sideline, Evans dashed their hopes by upholding his initial decision. 

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“Disbelief, just really disappointed for the boys,” Montgomery said post-game. 

“They put in so much effort, you come to a team like Melbourne City, they’re the benchmark team in the competition. They don’t need any help, they’re on a massive budget and they’ve got some top, top players, international players, top young players and they don’t need any help.

“I think for tonight, they had a lot of help and for opposition players to come off the park and just shake their head and say I don’t know how we got away with that one, I’ve never really had that in my career. 

“So yeah, I think we need an explanation on the decisions made.

“I know it’s a tough ask for referees, the game is so fast, that [AAMI Park] pitch is so fast, probably the quickest pitch in the league. 

“But Melbourne City’s first penalty is outside the box and that’s a fact. The first contact is outside the box and when questioned about it, the feedback I got from the officials was it wasn’t the first contact. it was the second contact. I don’t know when the rules changed but first contact as the player goes down, if he falls in the box and there’s another contact, it’s not the second contact.”

“Unless I’ve missed a new rule change. I think everyone can see that wasn’t a penalty so to concede just before half-time when I thought we deserved a goal before we were in the ascendancy of starting to control the game and again talking about moments to concede just before half-time was disappointing.

“The final incident, I probably don’t need to say much about it. You only have to look at social media and the text messages I’ve had from good people within football here and they’re all just in disbelief,

“I’m just in disbelief more than anything, I just think there needs to be an explanation and just really disappointed for the boys. It’s been a tough week for us. We’ve got some really tough luck. I thought tonight it wasn’t luck, it was just poor poor decision making.”

Coming hot off the heels of a week in which the A-Leagues had already been the subject of controversy, social media was quick to erupt in anger on behalf of the Mariners, and APL Managing Director Danny Townsend tweeted “I have just seen these two incidents and can totally understand the vitriol.  Will be seeking answers. Won’t comment further until I get those answers. Rest assured I understand the gravity of it.”

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For his part, Montgomery was downtrodden that, once again, controversy surrounding the refereeing and the VAR would dominate the discourse instead of what he saw as a brave and credit-worthy performance from his side. 

“It’s tough for referees to make calls, the game is so quick,” he said.”But when you have VAR and I’m looking at the screen and I can see [the Miller incident is] a penalty, and I can see that the first one is outside the box. Maybe they need to get together and really have a look at it. 

“I think it’s sad for the game. I think the game has been ruined tonight. I think it’s a spectacle that Australian football didn’t need. There is a lot of positives here, it’s been a transition with everything that’s gone on but nights like tonight really set the competition back and it’s sad for football.

“Everyone watches the Premier League. Why do we watch the Premier League? Because it’s the best league in the world. It’s fast, frenetic, it’s physical, it’s quick and that’s why everyone watches it. I think it’s always got to be about the product. People want to watch a game.

“What was tonight? I thought it was a good game other than the crazy incidents that happened. People are now talking about them and not talking about the Mariners, who are a very young team and have the smallest squad and budget in the league. They’re not talking that we came here to the champions and put in a good performance. They’re talking about the decisions from the referee. So I think that’s sad. We’ve got some young boys tonight that again proved that they’re as good as any young players in the competition.

“But to lose a game on an incident where we should have had a penalty, that hurts. But I think everybody can see tonight and I think that’s the real blatant thing that people need to look at. Look at the situation.”

City boss Patrick Kisnorbo, whose side are now top of the A-League Men until at least Western United’s game against Sydney FC tomorrow afternoon, was diplomatic when asked for his view on the calls.  

“I don’t make that decision,” he said. “For me, the VAR or the refs are there to make a decision and that’s the decision that they made. That’s gone against us sometimes I think. 

“I didn’t see the actual [Miller incident].because the ball was blocking the foot, so I didn’t see the contact. But obviously, Central Coast would say maybe it is a penalty, so it’s half and half

“But to be honest with you, where I saw it, I didn’t see it greatly and end of the day, the VAR’s there to do their job and they said it wasn’t a penalty so we move on.”

A former central defender in his heyday, Kisnorbo’s playstyle likely would have suffered VAR’s wrath had it been in use during his heyday but when asked how he would have coped with the circumstances contemporary players face, he once again kept a straight face. 

“There’s a lot of things that has changed in football. There are yellows that I wouldn’t think is a yellow,” said Kisnorbo. 

“That’s the way the game is going at times. So you have to respect the decision of what the ref makes, what the VAR makes. And again, we’ve been on those calls as well. 

“So it’s hard as a coach because football’s divided by opinions but at the end of the day, the VAR makes the decision, not me. I don’t do anything. All I do is try and coach the players, I don’t make the VAR decisions.”

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