Aston Villa 0 Sheffield United 0
Aston Villa and Sheffield United drew 0-0 last night as the Premier League returned to action after a 100-day hiatus due to the Covid-19 crisis with strong anti-racism statements and immediate controversy.
Technology was thrust back into the spotlight as visitors United appeared to be denied a clear goal at an empty Villa Park, when Villa goalkeeper Orjan Nyland carried the ball over the goalline just before halftime. It was a let-off for Villa, who remained second-bottom in the table with 26 points, while Champions League-chasing Sheffield United moved sixth, a point behind Manchester United above them with nine games of the season remaining.
The match had begun with a strong statement of support for the worldwide protests against racism as the players and match officials all took a knee on the opening whistle.
All the players' names on the back of their shirts were replaced with the words 'Black Lives Matter' as the Premier League joined the international protest campaign sparked by the death of George Floyd in America. There was also a moment's silence before kickoff in memory of those who died in the ongoing Covid-19 health crisis, which included the father of Villa manager Dean Smith.
Smith's side were lucky to escape with a point after an off-balance Nyland caught a curling free-kick but was bundled back over the line by team-mate Keinan Davis in a clumsy defensive mix-up.
Referee Michael Oliver, pointing to his watch, looked to indicate that goalline technology had not verified the ball had crossed the line, despite what appeared to be clear evidence on TV replays.
There was also no intervention from the Video Assistant Referee.
Hawk-Eye issued a statement after the game saying the seven cameras in the stands around the goal area were obstructed by the keeper, defender and goalpost.
"This level of occlusion has never been seen before in over 9,000 matches that the Hawk-Eye Goal Line Technology system has been in operation," the company said, re-igniting the debate over technology in football.
A statement from the Professional Game Match Officials Board explained why VAR did not intervene when the technology failed.
It read: "Under the IFAB protocol, the VAR is able to check goal situations, however due to the fact that the on-field match officials did not receive a signal, and the unique nature of that, the VAR did not intervene."
Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder was left baffled by the incident. "It was in the Holte End, the goalkeeper was in the Holte End and eight rows back. Everyone knew it, saw it and felt it," he said.
"I don't know whether to laugh or cry."