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 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.
New year but same old VAR
The year of 2019 ended with VAR controversy at Anfield, Carrow Road and St Mary’s as goals by Pedro Neto, Teemu Pukki and Max Meyer were ruled out after players were 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.
Poor defending from Burnley as Villa’s formation change pays off
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.
Ending a 12-game drought – the best of the stats
- Aston Villa recorded their first away victory at Burnley since March 1959 (2-0 in the FA Cup), having previously gone 14 trips there without a win across all competitions (D6 L8).
- Burnley suffered their first Premier League defeat against a team starting the day in the relegation zone since August 2018 (4-2 v Fulham), ending a run of eight such games without losing (W5 D3).
- Burnley have lost each of their last nine Premier League games when failing to keep a clean sheet – indeed, the Clarets are winless in 18 games in the competition when conceding (D4 L14).
- Grealish scored his sixth Premier League goal in his 19th appearance this season – as many as he netted in 31 matches in the Championship last season (excluding play-offs).
- Wesley scored his first Premier League goal for Villa since October (two versus Norwich), ending a run of 12 games and 20 shots without finding the net.
- Wood has scored more headed goals than any other player in the top five European leagues in 2019-20 (five).
‘VAR played its part as usual’
Burnley boss Sean Dyche to BBC Match of the Day: “We had a strong second half in the Manchester United game and I expected us to carry that on but we were miles off to start. There were not enough players brave enough to get the ball into good areas.
“The main thing was we got a big response and we dominated the rest of the game from half-time onwards. We’ve got to perform for 90 minutes, that was the key.
“I’m a big fan of VAR, it looks like handball to me. You need those margins when you’re not playing well to go for you and that didn’t come to us.”
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith to BBC Match of the Day: “We changed the system and I thought that we wanted to get on the ball and play. The lads looked really accomplished at it. We’ve only had a couple of days to work on it. A lot of them have played it before at previous clubs. We’ve been conceding too many goals and playing the three helped us get an extra head in the box.
“Burnley is a tough place to come and they know how to stay in this league but we felt we could compete with them. VAR played its part as usual but we scored two great goals as well.
“Jack Grealish is unfortunate to not have two goals today. I’m still not sure why it was disallowed looking at the still image. I thought theirs should’ve been disallowed for a push on Tyrone Mings.”
Burnley host League One side Peterborough United in the third round of the FA Cup on Saturday, 4 January (12:31 GMT kick-off) before travelling to Chelsea for their next Premier league match on Saturday, 11 January (15:00 GMT).
Aston Villa take on Fulham in the FA Cup (Saturday, 15:01 GMT) and travel to Leicester City on Wednesday, 8 January for the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final (20:00 GMT). They return to Premier League action on Sunday, 12 January against champions Manchester City at Villa Park (16:30 GMT).