To VAR, or not to VAR, that is the question: ALW Talking Points

While Covid claimed a couple of fixtures, the A-League Women’s action that took place was as dramatic and delectable as ever.

The banger file
Come season’s end, the nominees for goal of the season are going to be spectacular. After only five rounds of competition the sheer number of worldies, bangers, stunners, and rockets is already sizable and still growing.

This round’s additions included Rachel Lowe’s long range effort for Sydney FC in their 5-0 win over Wellington Phoenix. Then there was Katrina Gorry’s first goal of the season – a stunning strike which saw Victory goalkeeper Melissa Maizels simply watch it sail over her head. Her baby rocking celebration was made all the more special by baby Harper being in the stands.

Then there was Emily Condon’s curling free kick which secured the Reds all three points against Perth Glory and Chelsie Dawber’s two brilliant finishes.

While this column has discussed (and will continue to discuss) some of the defensive frailties across the league, sometimes the attacking exploits are too good.

The rise of the Reds
Adelaide has proved to be a bit of a mixed bag in these opening rounds of the season. There was undeniably something there, but whether it would be enough to propel Adrian Stenta’s side to the holy grail of finals football was the question looming over this team.

Their game against Perth Glory on New Year’s Day saw Dylan Holmes and Kayla Sharples make their first starts for the season. A midfielder and defender respectively, their inclusions certainly gave Adelaide a little something extra.

As the pair continue to acclimatise to the league and conditions they will also continue to add solidity to the middle and back thirds of the pitch. They will complement the good work already being done by the likes of Matilda McNamara, Nanako Sasaki, and Fiona Worts.

But where Adelaide really shone in this game was up forward. Chelsie Dawber and Emily Condon were irrepressible both in combination and separately. Condon’s set piece was phenomenal and she also provided the assist for one of Dawber’s goals after evading the Glory defence.

Meanwhile, Dawber’s two finishes were top shelf. She finds herself right in the golden boot mix with three goals – and is more than on track to better her five-goal haul from last season.

Looking both at their form, and the form of the teams around them, their trajectory currently looks like it lands in the top four and sees them finally make the finals.

(Photo by Sarah Reed/Getty Images)

What’s worse: a bad call or VAR?
To try and count the number of words – both written and spoken – about VAR since it was introduced would be a fool’s endeavour. It sparks controversy and conversation wherever it is used with many fans begging and pleading for its removal from the game. It has the ability to dominate post-match discussions, shifting the focus from the actual football to the application of technology and the interpretation of rules.

While some people see the lack of VAR in the women’s game as a marker of inequality, many fans are relieved to not have to deal with the tech, seeing all of the negatives it spews onto the games it is present in.

So in a world with no VAR, like the ALW, unfavourable or questionable calls have no second chances but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There were two challenges during this round of ALW which prompted conversations about referee decision-making and VAR.

Sarah Carroll’s tackle on Paige Hayward raised eyebrows when the defender only received a yellow. It looked late, dangerous and worthy of the harshest punishment.

The following day, eyebrows remained raised as Kyra Cooney-Cross’ challenge on Larissa Crummer was deemed worthy of a red.

Victory fans were unsurprisingly upset at the decision and are now likely to be without the Matilda for at least a week – and possibly much longer thanks to the timing of the Asian Cup and Cooney-Cross’ potential selection.

But there was confusion amongst fans at how the two challenges were adjudicated by their respective referees.

While arguments can be made that Carroll should have been sent off and arguments can be made that Cooney-Cross should have only received a yellow, the referees made their decisions. Some people will agree with them entirely and some people will be incensed that they happened.

Subjectivity is a part of football. Errors are made as are good calls. There are swings and there are roundabouts. Fans have every right to be frustrated just as referees have every right to be respected. Having strong opinions on decisions, feeling aggrieved or like your team has gotten away with something is all part and parcel of football.

And feeling indignant or delighted with a call made by a referee is much, much better than dealing with VAR.

One step forward, two steps back
New Year’s Day saw Perth Glory return to playing after a two-week quarantine-induced break. The team is set to be based in NSW for the next little while ahead of scheduled border openings which would allow them and their opponents into Western Australia.

Alex Epakis’ side once again showed plenty but were unable to stop a strong Adelaide side from taking home all three points.

But for all the delight of welcoming back Perth, there was also the disappointment of two ALW fixtures being postponed due to Covid with Covid cases at Melbourne City and Western Sydney Wanderers postponing their respective clashes against Newcastle and Canberra.

The postponement was obviously the right call with the health and safety of players, staff, and fans all paramount. All the positive cases across the teams are reported to be doing well and the clubs are raring to return back to action.

But just as the men’s game has seen more consistent postponements due to cases, that path feels inevitable for the women’s game too.
Rescheduling games, keeping across requirements and restrictions across states, and keeping competition integrity are just some of the challenges the APL must face.