Liverpool standards drop off cliff as VAR luck counts for nothing

Brighton V Liverpool in pictures

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Brighton edged Liverpool out of the FA Cup by the thinnest of VAR margins. You need a mileometer to measure just how far Liverpool have sunk below their own high standards – 10 points adrift of the top four and now the holders have crashed out of the FA Cup and arguably their best chance of European football next season.

And it could have been worse. The thickness of the woven badge on the sleeve of Ibrahima Konate was enough to keep Pervis Estupinan onside from a free-kick. The Ecuador international’s cross was then neatly controlled by Kaoru Mitoma before firing a shot into the roof of the Liverpool net.

It was the giant screen that announced the VAR check but there was no protest from the Liverpool players – perhaps most telling of all. The battle had gone out of them all too easily, even after escaping censure for channelling their fighting spirit much too literally. The raking tackle down the back of the legs of Evan Ferguson from Fabinho moments after coming on in the 85th minute deserved more than a yellow, but this time VAR remained strangely and frustratingly silent.

Only two minutes earlier Liverpool should already have been a man short. Konate, caught out by the run of Mac Allister, planted his arm across the back of his neck but somehow escaped a foul and the inevitable award of a second yellow card. Outside the box, and not enough to warrant a straight red, VAR had no jurisdiction in this instance.

Brighton claimed their own justice in the best way possible – the final whistle greeted by euphoric scenes from their colossal captain Lewis Dunk to their man-of-the-match Mitoma, who caused such havoc to a Liverpool defence who these days simply don’t look up to the task.

It is just 15 days since the Seagulls thrashed Liverpool here 3-0 in the league but it is little consolation for Jurgen Klopp that things had at least improved since then. A classic cup tie from the start could have gone either way but in the final crucial minutes the Merseysiders were simply not up to the task of seeing the match through.

There had even been a slice of controversy about their opener on the half-hour. A worryingly uncharacteristic miss when through on goal by Mo Salah five minutes earlier would have probably been ruled offside by VAR

But Harvey Elliott showed him how it was done when Salah turned provider, but replays showed the ball had hit the arm of Naby Keita in the build up with again no VAR intervention. Dunk himself was the unexpected source of the equaliser as Liverpool failed to take their lead into the break.

The Brighton captain looked as surprised as anybody that he had got the last touch on Tariq Lamptey’s long-range shot to deflect it past Alisson and into the back of the net. The second half continued in similar vein with half-chances at either end then all of a sudden Liverpool were opened up again by the most simple of Dunk passes.

Mitoma flicked in a cross with the outside of his foot and March’s shot was saved by Alisson, bounced back against the Brighton player and flew inches wide of the post. But despite the increasing frustration of decisions going against them, Brighton were the ones holding their heads together on the pitch, leaving their fans to vent the Amex frustration

“Who’s the Scouser in the black?” they asked of the referee after the second red card opportunity was ignored. Those VAR crosshairs, thankfully for the South Coasters, are of no fixed abode.

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