If Fulham are relegated from the Premier League this season by one point or less, they will look back at Thursday night’s 1-0 defeat against Tottenham and curse their luck – and the ludicrous state of the handball law.
Josh Maja thought he had equalised midway through the second half for Scott Parker’s side, who had spent the first period under pressure but came out and dominated the second 45.
The on-loan Bordeaux striker’s joy was short lived, though. VAR proved that in the build up to the goal, the ball had struck the hand of team-mate Mario Lemina.
Now, this was not a deliberate act of handball. Indeed, the ball was rifled at the midfielder from point-blank range by Davinson Sanchez.
It was not even a case whereby Lemina had his hand outside of the silhouette of his body. His arm was glued to his side and had it not been there – ironically in a position the laws would likely deem ‘unnatural’ – the clearance would likely have cannoned off his thigh in any case.
Unfortunately for Fulham, the law states that any handball that results in a goal, accidental or not, is cause for punishment.
Even more unfortunately for Parker’s luckless troops, VAR was on hand to study the minutiae of the incident. Had it not been employed, there is little chance than any of the on-field officials would have paid any heed to Spurs’ hopeful claims of foul play.
Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the whole incident, however, is that had the metaphorical boot been on the other foot – that Maja had attempted a shot that had struck Sanchez’s arm in a similar position – the laws would have instructed the referee to turn a blind eye to it.
So, this is a case of an infringement that is quite literally a foul in one area of the pitch but not in another.
It is a crazy state of affairs.
The Premier League sensibly acted to eradicate such punishment on defenders, albeit at a rather bizarre mid-season point, but their action did nothing to help offensive players. It was an oversight as ridiculous as the current law.