Julen Lopetegui marched in to see referee Andy Madley armed with evidence.
After a controversial conclusion to Wolverhampton Wanderers’ FA Cup third-round 2-2 draw at Liverpool on Saturday, the head coach and captain Ruben Neves went to the officials’ dressing room to demand answers, carrying a laptop computer.
They believed that defender Toti Gomes had seen a perfectly good winning goal ruled out for offside eight minutes from full-time.
And by the time they went to speak to Madley and his assistants, they were confident they were right thanks to an image that VAR Mike Dean never got to see.
Lopetegui was provided with a screen grab from a tactical camera high in the gantry of the moment when the ball (circled in blue) left Hwang Hee-chan’s head on its way back to corner-taker Matheus Nunes (circled in yellow, bottom left) .
It appeared to show the Portugal international being played onside by Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold (circled, top right) and Lopetegui took the laptop and the image to confront Madley.
The head coach and captain were allowed into the referee’s room five minutes after the final whistle — a rare break with convention, with officials generally insisting on a 30-minute “cooling off” period before speaking to coaches.
Neves’ presence as a member of Wolves’ on-field team was also highly unusual but reflected the fury within the dressing room at the sense of injustice generated by what they felt to be an incorrect initial decision and serious flaws with the VAR process.
“We have talked with the referee,” said Lopetegui. “He was polite to hear us. They can make a mistake – I make a mistake every day.
“He tried to explain it to me but it was very clear. More or less I showed him that we think this goal was valid.
“We are unlucky with the decision and unlucky because we had a lot of chances to win this match.”
While Lopetegui exuded calm in the media duties, he was more angry when he left the touchline at Anfield and asked to speak to Madley.
And the anger and frustration returned on the journey home as players and officials examined social media to find more apparent evidence supporting their case which had not been available to Dean and assistant VAR Simon Bennett.
While Dean is an easy target, it appears the main mistakes on Saturday lay elsewhere. That will come as little comfort to Wolves, however, after they were denied a place in round four by a combination of a poor initial decision and a farcical turn of events involving the VAR system.
The club will contact the FA and match officials body the PGMOL in the coming days to demand an official explanation. But here is what we already know.
“I didn’t even know it was me,” said Matheus as the dust settled after the game.
“From the footage and the image I didn’t even know it was me. I have seen it but I could not see myself.”
He was not alone. It took a while for word to filter through that Matheus had been given offside by assistant referee Nick Hopton in the 82nd minute rather than ‘goalscorer’ Toti.
But it takes even longer to understand why Dean and Bennett confirmed the decision to rule out Wolves’ apparent winner.
In order to draw a line parallel to the byline that can prove definitively whether a player is offside, VAR uses two separate camera angles which are combined and calibrated to create an all-round image of an incident.
When Dean and Bennett attempted to check Hopton’s offside call against Matheus, they found that the broadcasters had not provided them with the angles they required.
In essence, at least one of the cameras had zoomed in too tightly on the 18-yard box, meaning Matheus, who had taken the initial corner, was out of shot at the decisive moment when the ball found its way back to him via a flick off the head of Hwang.
The pair were provided with a single image from a tactical camera, similar to the one seen by Lopetegui, but the decision was so tight they decided they had insufficient conclusive evidence to overrule Hopton’s on-field call.
A look back at the ITV coverage highlights the problem. At the moment the ball leaves Hwang’s head, Matheus cannot be seen.
While the midfielder reappears a split second later looking onside, the image is useless to the VARs, who could not overrule Hopton based on assumption.
Sources at ITV, who had 17 cameras at Anfield — more than the standard number for an ITV game — say zooming in on the penalty area was in line with standard production practice and that the broadcaster was unable to provide VAR with footage showing the relevant player. was a “freak” event.
Dean was certainly not provided with footage taken from the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand – the same side of the field where Hopton was stationed – which was later circulated on social media.
A screengrab from that footage, taken at the moment the ball leaves Hwang’s head, appears to show that Hopton got his initial decision wrong.
Wolves also felt aggrieved by an earlier decision involving VAR, which confirmed that Mohamed Salah’s goal to put Liverpool 2-1 up on 52 minutes should stand despite the Egyptian being in an offside position when the ball was lifted towards him.
But, while Wolves fans will undoubtedly feel that the law is an ass, the decision for Dean was relatively simple based on the guidance from football lawmakers IFAB.
While it seems to fly in the face of natural justice, the guidance to referees that is published on IFAB’s website makes it clear that Toti’s misdirected header as he attempted to intercept the pass meant Salah could not be given offside.
The guidance says that “saves” from defenders or goalkeepers will still result in offsides being awarded, but deliberate attempts to play the ball will not.
The law itself, however, was still criticized on social media by former Wolves players.
“I’m honestly sick and tired of the offside rule that allowed Salah’s goal,” wrote Karl Henry. “It’s absolute nonsense! Nobody will tell me otherwise. I raised this in a meeting with IFAB a few years ago. Unfortunately, only pressure from current players and coaches will force their hand.”
“Wolves were robbed,” wrote Dave Edwards. “The Salah goal is one of the most farcical rules in football!”
And Lopetegui made his own feelings clear.
“It’s a special situation, but if the player was offside – and he was very clearly by one meter – when the ball comes from his teammate, he takes advantage of this position, despite the ball coming off Toti,” he said.