The quality of the officiating in the Premier League has come under the spotlight this season – and Wolverhampton Wanderers have been on the end of their fair share of controversial decisions.
Bruno Lage’s team are fighting to finish inside the European spots and currently sit seventh, two points behind sixth-placed West Ham and four behind fifth-placed Manchester United. Leapfrogging Arsenal – who currently hold fourth position – now looks beyond Wolves due to the Gunners’ three games-in-hand, so a place in the Europa League is the target.
But how much better off would Wolves be in their quest to bring European football back to Molineux had refereeing calls gone in their favour? Lage isn’t a manager who likes to publicly dig out officials, but even he has lamented decisions at times this season.
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Speaking more generally about the standard of refereeing in the Premier League to BirminghamLive recently, Lage said: “I protect and I respect the referees a lot. The VAR is so important these days. The VAR cannot make mistakes, it should be there to help the referees.
“It’s so hard to be a referee. The game, especially here in the Premier League – the intensity, the speed of the game, the way the teams make tackles – it is important VAR helps the referees. They should not make too many mistakes and sometimes some mistakes happen. With VAR, it cannot happen in my opinion.”
Lage elected not to rewind his mind back to two contentious decisions before Christmas which went against Wolves, one of which could have huge ramifications on the race for Europe. Cast your minds back to August 29, when Manchester United were the visitors at Molineux.
Wolves were by far the better team and should have been out of sight before Mason Greenwood squeezed a shot past Jose Sa to hand United a 1-0 victory. There was no problem with the goal itself, but just seconds before Greenwood scored Paul Pogba clearly fouled Ruben Neves in the build-up.
Neves called it a ‘clear foul’ and most people agreed with him. But, crucially, referee Mike Dean didn’t see anything wrong with Pogba’s challenge and allowed Greenwood’s goal to stand. Had that goal been chalked off, just one point would separate Wolves and United in the Premier League table today.
Wolves were on the end of another controversial decision at The Etihad in December as Manchester City sealed a 1-0 win courtesy of Raheem Sterling’s second half penalty. The spot-kick was awarded to City after Bernardo Silva’s cross struck Joao Moutinho under the armpit.
Jonathan Moss immediately pointed for a penalty and VAR Andre Marriner decided there was no need to ask the referee to watch a replay on the pitch-side monitor. Moss’s decision was allowed to stand, despite everyone who had access to a screen inside the stadium deeming it a clear and obvious error on the official’s part. It wasn’t handball. Another point lost for Wolves.
There are two more dubious decisions which irked Wolves fans, both of which occurred during the recent defeats to Arsenal. The Gunners clinched a 1-0 win at Molineux at the beginning of February courtesy of Gabriel Magalhaes’ goal.
Wolves felt a 50/50 went against them when Alexandre Lacazette tangled with Sa as he teed up Gabriel. “I can accept the decision about their goal but in some games they give it and in some games they don’t,” said Wolves midfielder Neves. “They need to do the same decisions in every game because it’s frustrating for us.”
In fairness to referee Michael Oliver, that decision was the least obvious of the four highlighted in this article. The next, which happened in the meeting with Arsenal at The Emirates two weeks later, was far more blatant.
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Wolves fell short of their high standards at The Emirates and Arsenal eventually secured a 2-1 win that their performance on the night deserved. But the game wasn’t without controversy.
Conor Coady pounced on a mistake from Thomas Partey and appeared to be racing through on goal in the second half before referee Martin Atkinson blew up. Atkinson awarded a free-kick to Arsenal following a challenge Coady made on Ben White, but replays showed there wasn’t any contact between the England colleagues.
White realised he had played himself into trouble and went down just before Raul Jimenez put Coady one on one against Aaron Ramsdale. Surely, given the position Coady was in, Atkinson should have allowed the game to flow and returned to review the decision on VAR in the event that the Wolves captain scored.
It would have put Wolves 2-0 up – a score-line which Arsenal would have found it incredibly difficult to overturn. Based on that assumption, Wolves would have three more points and sit ahead of Arsenal in the table as things stand.
Lage hasn’t blamed the referees for any of the aforementioned errors which have potentially cost Wolves six points this season but, as he says, the officials’ use of VAR needs to improve. If Wolves don’t reach Europe this season, the decisions noted above will have been a factor.