It was a case of third time lucky as Raúl Jiménez extended Wolverhampton’s unbeaten run to six matches, after the striker had two first-half goals ruled out by VAR. Jiménez’s second-half penalty earned Nuno Espírito Santo’s side a point in a scrappy game in which Danny Ings continued his purple patch by registering his fifth goal in four matches to giveSouthamptonthe lead after seizing on some sloppy Wolves defending.
A dull first half was dominated by Kevin Friend, the video assistant referee stationed 130 miles away in the Premier League’s multiscreen chamber at Stockley Park, who ruled out two Jiménez strikes, the first for handball and the second for offside.
By the time Friend’s decision had filtered through to a perplexed stadium, Southampton had restarted the game and their manager, Ralph Hasenhüttl, had long since taken his head out of his hands.
It was the correct decision, with Patrick Cutrone straying into an offside position to collect a pass from Leander Dendoncker in a move that culminated in Jiménez wheeling away in celebration, but it took an age to come, nor was it clearly communicated to those here.
“We have to get used to VAR,” Nuno said. “It is fine margins; small, small details. But they [the officials] are there to judge, to analyse and decide. We celebrate, but the momentum – and this is what is tough. We feel the stadium celebrating and then it [the emotion] comes really down. The mood of the players, it has a terrible impact on the team for the goal is not allowed and the other team celebrate a non-goal and the team’s [spirit] goes up.”
Hasenhüttl concurred that technology is ultimately a help and not a hindrance. “It makes the game fairer,” said the Southampton manager, who considered this a point gained after halting their three-match losing streak. “It is not always nice if you score a goal and then you have to wait – it is a mental boost for our team and disaster for the other – but in the end, the result is fair.”
Jiménez had already found the net in vain, having rounded Angus Gunn, who was caught in no man’s land after the Mexico striker got the better of Jannik Vestergaard. Replays, however, showed that Jiménez handled in the buildup to eluding his marker and Peter Bankes duly booked the striker.
Moments earlier Southampton passed up a golden chance to take the lead but Pierre-Emile Højbjerg failed to find the target after being freed by Ings. Nathan Redmond was guilty of trying to walk the ball in before Ryan Bertrand hammered into the side netting.
Sloppy defending was a theme, with Nuno slapping his thighs in anger. Lackadaisical play seeped into a disjointed performance that was not helped by injuries to Ryan Bennett and Rúben Neves, both of whom will be assessed before Wolves fly to Slovakia to take on Slovan Bratislava in the Europa League.
Bennett’s replacement, Jesús Vallejo, was fortunate twice to get away with undercooked and wayward passes but Wolves eventually paid for another error when Conor Coady made a mess of a harmless Højbjerg header, handing Ings passage through to goal. The striker held Willy Boly at arm’s length before coolly finishing beyond Rui Patrício.
But Southampton, who host Leicester on Friday, are hardly the most callous opposition – they have conceded 10 goals in their past four league matches – and when substitute Matt Doherty waltzed into the box Maya Yoshida went to ground before Højbjerg halted the full-back’s progress. Jiménez made no mistake from the spot, but only after another VAR check.
“Every time the referee makes this,” Nuno said, placing his right hand over his ear, mimicking how referees communicate with the VAR, “everybody is worried.”