Kenny Hibbitt understands Wolves fans’ frustrations but insists his old club can have no complaints at their disallowed goal at Leicester.
The Molineux legend, now one of the Premier League’s longest-serving referees assessors, was in the stands at the King Power Stadium for Sunday’s 0-0 draw. The 68-year-old watched as Leander Dendoncker’s effort was ruled out by VAR after an accidental handball from Willy Boly was spotted in the build-up.
Like all the Premier League managers and coaches, Hibbitt has been shown the workings of VAR and the new rule changes this summer. The former midfielder believes the decision followed the new guidelines.
“Before the season started, all of the coaches and managers agreed to the new rules of the game,” said Hibbitt. “One of the new rules is that a goal cannot be allowed if there has been a handball in the build-up to it.
“It was shown that the ball hit Willy Boly’s hand from Dendoncker’s header before Dendoncker scored, so according to the new laws, it had to be disallowed.”
Referee Andre Marriner was criticised for his handling of the game by fans on social media and Wolves captain Conor Coady had a lengthy discussion with the Solihull-based official after the final whistle.
In his role Hibbitt is not allowed to comment on individual officials’ performances or their decisions. But he understands the feelings of the Wolves supporters, who celebrated for two minutes thinking they had scored only to have their elation dashed. “Everyone thought it was a goal,” said Hibbitt. “Even the Leicester players didn’t appeal, but it had to be ruled out under the new laws.”
The summarisers on BBC’s Match Of The Day are paid for their opinions and are therefore allowed to express them far more freely than Hibbitt. Former Nottingham Forest, Newcastle and England midfielder Jermaine Jenas said: “The new rules are quite clear – if the ball hits your hand and it results in a goal, it’s going to be disallowed. But I don’t like it. I think it should have been a goal. I listened to Conor Coady’s interview and I understand what he’s saying – Boly doesn’t know where his arm is and I don’t think it had that much of an impact in terms of where the ball landed either.
“That goal should stand in my opinion, but what we all need to get to grips with is we have to accept it. The game is changing; these players have all been briefed before the season started and there’s no reason for them to be remonstrating with the officials when the reality is they know the rules. Boly will know the ball touched his arm so he’ll know the goal cannot stand. It doesn’t mean that just because I don’t like it and he doesn’t like it, it should stand.”
Co-summariser Phil Neville had little sympathy for Wolves. The England Women’s manager said: “We started it in the World Cup and we all got brief beforehand. We took a stance as an England team that any VAR decision you have to accept; do not surround the referee, rules are rules.”
But the former Manchester United and Everton defender believes the new handball rule is the most controversial one and most difficult to accept. “What I did find out is the handball rule is the worst rule,” he added. “It’s one that will continually get looked at and challenged, but ultimately these are Premier League players who have seen these decisions over the last two or three days, they know the rule and they have been briefed. I think we’ve just got to accept it and get on with it.
“People talked about the (Raheem Sterling offside by his armpit in the) West Ham v Man City game on Saturday; it was offside, so get on with it. There’s so much rubbish and drama being spoke about it. Three decisions have been made by VAR this weekend and all three have been correct.”
Many people believe the new rules compromise the spirit of the game. Neville disagrees. “Forget the spirit of the game – these are the rules,” he said. “This has been voted in by the clubs, so everybody has wanted this. They brought it in, and now everyone’s moaning about getting decisions right. If you’re one millimetre offside, you’re offside.
“My centre forward had her toenail offside, and it cost us a World Cup final. So I can understand Nuno. Helen White scored, we were celebrating and I was trying to make a substitution to try to win us the game, the next minute I was on the floor because the goal was disallowed! It was a nightmare, a disaster, but we all voted for it, we wanted the rules there, so let’s get on with it.”
Jenas added: “It is something we need to be careful about, but the people who are working in VAR are learning themselves. People complained about the time it took (two minutes in the Leicester-Wolves game), but I think it’s getting quicker.
“I don’t think a minute and a half or two minutes is anything to complain about. It’s getting much quicker. It’s something we’re going to get used to. Celebrating goals and non goals is going to become part of the game unfortunately.”