Yes, VAR is a farce - but Hibs must own failings behind semi defeat
Talking points can’t start and end with criticism of official confusion
It’s understandable, this need to rail against the apparent inequities of a system that was sold as football’s AI-powered answer to the great questions that have plagued the beautiful game since its very inception.
But arguments over the decision-making ability of Scotland’s video assistant referees should not – and will not, once Nick Montgomery has recovered from being thumped in the solar plexus – completely drown out the necessary conversation about Hibernian’s own very human uncertainties.
This was a game that Monty’s men should have put beyond all doubt. A match they might have won with something to spare. And a contest that, for long-time followers of Hibs, felt like a retrograde step by a team still lacking the nous and nastiness needed to knock out opponents reeling from a series of damaging jabs and set-up punches.
How did they let this one slip? Silly question. Have you not been paying attention?
The same players whose failings forced Lee Johnson into a long walk off a short plank are not, unsurprisingly, performing like battle-hardened winners under a manager in desperate need of some positive results after two hard months in office.
With two seismic fixtures to be tackled before the next international break, then, what did we learn from yesterday’s Viaplay Cup semi-final loss to a dogged, determined and dourly effective Aberdeen?
Nobody has any confidence in VAR
Players, managers, fans, pundits … no-one seems to understand exactly what is going on when play is halted, lines are drawn and decisions from the bunker are handed down.
And that’s before you start on the numerous incidents that may – or may not – be checked by the video assistant referees without the awareness of anyone involved.
Being allowed to watch a video replay of a live incident may make it easier for referees to get things right. Who wouldn’t want a second look at contentious incidents?
But, hypothetically speaking, a bad referee moved into the VAR booth would almost certainly make the same awful calls as before – just from a different vantage point.
When Montgomery can point to a picture appearing to show Martin Boyle dead level with the last Aberdeen defender, using the lines drawn on screen, you can see why so many have lost faith in the system.
Oh and, incidentally, whatever happened the old rule about the benefit of the doubt going to the attacker? The game’s gone.
Hibs have to own this
Having said all of the above, Hibs still should have been good enough – and clinical enough – to bury Aberdeen.
That inability to convert chances can come back to haunt even the best of teams. And Hibs don’t have the luxury of being so good, so dominant, that they can afford to squander even one or two decent opportunities.
Monty’s model is still a work in progress
When they were patient, Hibs moved Aberdeen around well. They drew the Dons onto them, created space and then hit the gaps, gaining good entries into the final third.
But it’s going to take time to embed that style into the DNA of a team who still, from time to time, looked up to see Boyle running a channel – and found it easy just to knock a long ball into space.
It’s an option from time to time. But it’s not what the new management really want from their players.
Hibs are light in key areas and, with that January transfer window looking a long, long way off, Montgomery could do with some good news on the injury and illness front.
Boyle being taken off as a precaution, having played more football than anyone in recent months because of his constant international commitments, was as understandable as it would have been concerning for fans. Without him, Hibs are very powderpuff up front.
Next up …
Even wins away to St Mirren and at home to Kilmarnock – next up on Wednesday night and Saturday, respectively – won’t erase the agony of missing out on a place in a cup final.
But, for Hibs fans wondering what happened to the bounce experienced when Monty replaced Johnson, the alternative is close to unthinkable.