Doku-Mac Allister penalty claim: Why did VAR say ‘both come in high’?

Sky Sports’ Peter Smith has picked out two issues with the officials’ explanation for not awarding Liverpool a penalty late on against Man City for Jeremy Doku’s high challenge on Alexis Mac Allister.

Liverpool wanted a penalty in the final minute of a thrilling Anfield encounter against their title rivals that ended 1-1, but referee Michael Oliver waved away their calls and VAR Stuart Attwell stuck with the on-field decision.

The audio of the officials’ deliberations was released on Monday night in the latest edition of Match Officials Mic’d Up, revealing that they ruled in City’s favour because “they both come in high” and Doku made contact with the ball.

Jeremy Doku challenges Alexis Mac Allister late in the game
Jeremy Doku challenges Alexis Mac Allister late in the game at Anfield

Head of referees Howard Webb said the VAR was right not to overturn the decision, but Smith argues that the outcome contradicts previous guidance and fails to acknowledge Mac Allister’s feet being on the ground.

“It’s extremely unsatisfactory for Liverpool fans looking at that explanation. Two things for me: they say that Doku gets the ball, but on those super slo-mos you can see that Mac Allister gets there first.

“So it comes off Mac Allister’s chest, catches Doku’s boot and then goes away. Even if Doku does get there first, Howard Webb has set a bit of a precedent.

“[Tottenham defender] Cristian Romero on Enzo Fernandez in the Chelsea game goes through, gets the ball but gets Enzo. At that point Howard Webb says it is not about getting the ball first. If you carry on and hit the player, which Doku has done with Mac Allister, that can be a foul.

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Howard Webb explains why Cristian Romero was shown a red card after giving a penalty away against Chelsea for a foul on Enzo Fernandez

“The other thing is [when the VAR says] they both come in high. Well Doku has his boot up here and Mac Allister is trying to chest the ball, his feet have barely left the ground, if at all.

“So when they both come in high, they come in high in different ways. We’ve seen on Ref Watch recently, when players have their boot up that high and make contact with an opponent it is invariably a foul and quite often a red card anywhere else on the pitch.

“But that is in the penalty box, in the last few seconds of a huge, potentially title-deciding, game. It’s a massive call. Liverpool fans, I expect, will be coming away from that explanation thinking ‘that should have gone our way’.”

Full transcript of the officials’ decision-making

Who are the officials speaking?

  • Referee (Ref): Michael Oliver
  • Video Assistant Referee (VAR): Stuart Attwell
  • Assistant VAR (AVAR): Nicholas Hopton
  • Replay Operator (RO)

VAR: “Headed, for me. Possible foul on defender.”

Ref: “No. Not for me, mate.”

VAR: “Checking for possible penalty.”

Ref: “Yeah. I think the ball is in the middle and he just tries to play the ball and there might be some contact.”

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Were Liverpool denied a last-gasp penalty when Jeremy Doku challenged Alexis Mac Allister in the penalty area at Anfield?

VAR: “OK. So that angle’s good. Can you just go slowly, I just want to establish if… So, there is clear contact on the ball by Doku. So here’s the ball and then there’s a coming together.

“Just give me one more that shows Mac Allister coming in. He turns his body.”

RO: “What do you want to see, sorry?”

VAR: “Yeah, so he plays the ball. The ball’s high, they both come in high. I don’t think there’s enough evidence there for a penalty kick. You happy with that?”

AVAR: “Let’s have a look, mate. Just showing it on broadcast as well. Here we go.”

VAR: “He plays the ball.”

AVAR: “Are you happy he definitely plays it?”

VAR: “He’s definitely touched it. Mac Allister’s then coming into his space. Mac Allister turns his back into him, it’s a coming together. Ollie [Michael Oliver, the ref] confirm on-field decision of play on. Check is complete, check is complete.”

What did Howard Webb say about the incident?

Michael Owen (presenter): “Was this a penalty? I thought it sort of wasn’t at the start. I see it again and I’m thinking it is. I’m really 50-50 on it.”

Howard Webb: “You’re not alone, this has split a lot of opinion. It’s one of those, for sure, if it was given on-field it would have been a check complete by the VAR, and equally having not giving it, it is also a check complete.

“You hear Michael Oliver saying the ball is in between and two players going together.

“The ball is too low to head. Doku lifts his foot to play the ball and he does make contact on the ball. Yes, we know there is contact on Mac Allister as well. As Mac Allister comes in, he is not playing the ball either.

“I understand why it has split opinion. I think it would have been check complete either way, not wanting to re-ref the games in situations that are not really clear which is what we think VAR is for.

“In this situation VAR stays out of it and that is what we would expect.”

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