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Ref Watch: Serious competency questions if Jack MacKenzie penalty incident in Aberdeen’s loss to PAOK wasn’t checked by VAR

The Europa Conference League clash at Pittodrie was overshadowed by VAR controversy which left the Dons fuming. Our expert Finlay Elder reviews a dismal night for the officials.

Referee Sebastian Gishamer awards a penalty kick to PAOK in time added after checking footage on the VAR screen. Stefan Schwab of PAOK scored the spot-kick with the last kick of the ball to give PAOK a 3-2 victory against Aberdeen. Image: Shutterstock.
Referee Sebastian Gishamer awards a penalty kick to PAOK in time added after checking footage on the VAR screen. Stefan Schwab of PAOK scored the spot-kick with the last kick of the ball to give PAOK a 3-2 victory against Aberdeen. Image: Shutterstock.

The European clash between Aberdeen and PAOK at Pittodrie was the place to be on Thursday night.

The Dons were looking to kick-start their continental campaign, while Europa Conference League Group G leaders PAOK were aiming to make it three wins from three.

At a windy Pittodrie, Aberdeen would find themselves 2-0 up after a thrilling quickfire double after half-time, before losing the game 3-2 in a moment of last-minute agony.

The refereeing team from Austria was led by Sebastian Gishamer, with the video assistant referee (VAR) side of things being headed up by his compatriot Alan Kijas.

Unfortunately, once again this season the referee and VAR took centre stage – for all the wrong reasons, of course.

Since its introduction, the consistency of VAR has been absolutely atrocious. Every single week the inconsistency is there to be seen.

It doesn’t matter what competition it is – every week you will read something negative about VAR, and about the numerous mistakes officials at grounds and in VAR rooms keep making, despite now having technological help.

Huge questions about what was going on with VAR room for Jack MacKenzie penalty incident

With the Aberdeen v PAOK game at 2-1 and the result hanging finely in the balance, Aberdeen were denied what seemed to be a clear foul and penalty.

It happened just a few yards in front of me, and I could tell straight away there was no contact on the ball and Jack MacKenzie was clearly taken out by PAOK captain Vieirinha.

Aberdeen’s Jack MacKenzie goes down in the box and appeals for a penalty against PAOK. Image: Shutterstock.

It was immediately obvious it was a game-defining moment – and should have resulted in a spot-kick, which in turn could have ultimately killed the match off in Aberdeen’s favour.

With the ref waving away the Dons’ claims, I thought surely VAR will take a long look at it to determine whether they thought he had made a mistake and should be sent to the monitor.

Across several leagues, you have seen penalties consistently given for that type of foul, either immediately or on review.

However, it is understood VAR didn’t even look at the flashpoint, not substantially anyway.

Why aren’t they checking that thoroughly and why isn’t the referee being advised to view that again?

If they did look at it, even for a couple of seconds, I don’t see how a referee at any level could view that incident and think there wasn’t a clear and obvious error made.

Rubezic foul was penalty – but similarities only underlined injustice against Dons

To rub salt in the wounds, PAOK themselves were awarded a penalty in the last minute following a VAR check.

In my opinion, it was a foul and a penalty.

Aberdeen’s Slobodan Rubezic almost slips into the tackle. It’s just on the edge of the box, but he clearly catches his man. It’s a penalty.

Where is the consistency, though? The Aberdeen penalty in my opinion is just as much of a penalty as the one PAOK were given.

Both defenders made no contact with the ball, both defenders went across their man,  taking them out. One resulted in a pen after a VAR check and one didn’t even warrant a proper VAR check.

If the talk is true that the Vieirinha challenge on MacKenzie wasn’t even reviewed, serious questions need to be asked of the competency of the match officials.

I thought the referee and, more importantly, the VAR team were very poor and incredibly inconsistent.

VAR at a tipping point

We are now reaching a tipping point with VAR in football.

As of right now, it simply has not worked.

We were told VAR was there to help officials, to help eradicate any potential mistakes. It has failed to do so – spectacularly.

I wouldn’t say not awarding the penalty is the only reason Aberdeen lost, there were several factors which played a part. There were defensive mistakes for all three goals scored by the Greek side, and the game seemed to turn on its head when Aberdeen made a triple-substitution at 2-0 up.

However, the momentum would have certainly been back in Aberdeen’s favour had they been awarded the penalty and potentially restored their two-goal lead.

Finlay Elder was a registered referee for six years and a category 5 official from 2019, with experience in the Highland League, Juniors and Club Academy.

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