Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino added to questions over the effectiveness of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) after his side’s FA Cup fifth round replay victory over League One strugglers Rochdale was littered with delays and confusion.
Striker Fernando Llorente scored an 12-minute second-half hat-trick to calm Tottenham’s nerves after Rochdale had levelled through Stephen Humphrys, while Heung-min Son and Kyle Walker-Peters also netted for Spurs at a snowy Wembley.
So while the north Londoners ultimately progressed quite comfortably to the quarter-finals, where they will face Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on 17 March, the debate over VAR raged.
“It was a game we can talk about different things,” said Pochettino. “It was so complicated because of the new system, it was difficult to keep focus on the game.
“I think we have the best referees in Europe or the world but I don’t know if this system will help them or cause more confusion. It is a game of emotion. If we are going to kill this emotion I think we are going to change the game.
“It’s difficult for the referee. I feel so sorry for the referee and I feel more sorry for the fans because it’s so difficult to understand the situation.”
The first controversy arrived on six minutes as Llorente was adjudged to have fouled Rochdale defender Harrison McGahey, despite apparent mutual shirt pulling, before Erik Lamela pounced to tap home.
The goal was ruled out by referee Paul Tierney following a VAR consultation, while further deliberation was had when McGahey stuck out an arm and Spurs winger Lucas Moura went to ground, although no penalty was given.
Tottenham opened the scoring on 23 minutes when Son cut inside and curled an effort beyond Rochdale goalkeeper Josh Lillis, but the South Korean’s mood turned from celebratory to apoplectic within minutes.
Spurs were initially awarded a free-kick following a foul by Matt Done – contact began outside the penalty area – on Kieran Trippier, although that was upgraded to a penalty following discussion with the VAR.
Son converted the spot-kick but the goal was ruled out for a stop-start run up – the 25-year-old was also booked – and Rochdale levelled shortly after the half hour mark as Humphrys collected an Andrew Cannon pass and fired beyond Michel Vorm.
Rochdale gave Spurs an almighty fright on the stroke of half-time as Cannon struck the base of Vorm’s post, although 73 seconds after the re-start Llorente chipped Lillis from Moura’s through ball.
Llorente poked home his second from Moura’s pull-back moments later and completed his hat-trick by nodding Son’s cross beyond Lillis. The floodgates were well and truly open and Lamela’s cross was tapped in by Son on 65 minutes.
Spurs notched their sixth in the closing stages when substitute Dele Alli provided the ammunition for Walker-Peters to slot past Lillis.