Aston Villa moved out of the relegation zone with victory against Burnley at Turf Moor despite having a goal ruled out for a marginal offside by the Video Assistant Referee system.
Jack Grealish thought he had put Villa ahead, nodding in Ezri Konsa’s cross, but striker Wesley was deemed inches offside in the build-up.
Grealish turned provider for Wesley 16 minutes later, before making it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time with a powerful strike inside the box.
Burnley responded in the second half, though it took until the 80th minute for Chris Wood to record their first shot on target – nodding a cross past goalkeeper Tom Heaton at the back post to make it 2-1.
The Villa keeper was then taken off on a stretcher after appearing to jar his knee while trying to keep out Wood’s header and Wesley had been forced off in a similar manner earlier in the half.
Defeat is Burnley’s third in a row in the Premier League, while Villa pick up their first victory on the road since beating Norwich City 5-1 in October.
The year of 2019 ended with VAR controversy at Anfield, Carrow Road and St Mary’s as goals by Pedro Neto, Teemu Pukki and Wilfried Zaha were ruled out after being deemed marginally offside.
And on a sunny lunchtime at Turf Moor on New Year’s Day, nothing changed.
Grealish’s disallowed goal, which came in the 12th minute and was ruled out following a two-minute VAR consultation, was victim to another marginal offside call which angered fans inside the stadium.
Striker Wesley, who contested an aerial ball during the build-up to the goal, was deemed offside by barely an inch – the back of his heel appearing to cross one of several lines drawn by VAR.
Fans chanted their disapproval of the VAR systems as play resumed and, when Wesley responded to score Aston Villa’s opener, the players were reluctant to celebrate in fear of yet another goal being ruled out.
Even after Grealish doubled the lead – firing past a helpless Nick Pope from inside the box in the first half – fans jeered sarcastically at the kick-off because they had escaped another unfavourable VAR review.
Former Chelsea and England goalkeeper Rob Green said VAR was “clearly not right” on BBC Radio 5 Live, while ex-Tottenham midfielder Andy Reid added it was “just ridiculous”.
“How could that goal be disallowed?” said Reid. “Something needs to be done about it because I’m sick of talking about it and listening to it.”
How you reacted on social media:
Scott Smith: I’m a Birmingham City fan and even I think that VAR decision against Aston Villa was harsh.
Dane: Marginal VAR offsides are anti-football. Why wait for their next fancy meeting to sort it? Convene a meeting now and change it. It’s clearly ruining game after game.
Mark Davies: VAR is a joke and it is ruining game after game. Goal line checks only. That’s it! Ridiculous call at Burnley. It is not as if officials make loads of errors anyway.
Tom Sharpe: VAR is a fantastic piece of technology that should be a terrific addition to the game…but the use of it in football is so questionable and awful that every other game that uses it must look at football like its an idiot.
Adam Heap: I’m a Burnley fan and whether it’s ‘scientifically offside’ or not, that VAR can be used like that is just wrong. I’d be happier for Villa to have that goal.
Dean Smith’s side came into the match having picked up just four points away from home and off the back of a poor performance in a 3-0 defeat at 10-man Watford on Saturday.
Smith said “a reaction was needed” prior to kick-off in Burnley and his players responded, creating goalscoring opportunities in both halves and deserving the three points.
The Villa boss mixed things up at Turf Moor, starting with a back three and playing Grealish in a more central role going forward and it paid off.
Grealish was at the heart of everything positive for Villa, playing three key passes and being involved in both goals.
But while Smith received the reaction from his players he had hoped for, there was more head scratching from Sean Dyche as Burnley produced another poor defensive display in the first half.
Twice, Burnley midfielder Ashley Westwood gave the ball away in his own half, leading to chances for Douglas Luiz and Wesley.
And James Tarkowski was out-muscled far too easily as Wesley was allowed to turn and shoot in the box in the first half, before a poor clearance from the same centre-back led to Grealish’s disallowed goal.
Burnley did respond in the second half after fans had booed them off at the break – Jay Rodriguez and Johann Berg Gudmundsson coming on as substitutes – but they failed to create many clear-cut opportunities in front of goal.
Rodriguez should have scored when Tarkowski’s low cross bounced off his shin and over the bar from a few yards out, while Wood thumped an effort miles wide from an unmarked position in the box.
Dyche stood on the touchline with his hands on his head and was an agitated figure throughout.
Wood’s header gave Burnley some hope at the end – they put in 34 crosses from open play during the match and pressure built on Villa during the nine-minute spell of stoppage time – but the hosts could not conjure up another shot on target.
More to follow.