Explained: Why Middlesbrough's controversial goal against Man Utd was allowed to stand despite Duncan Watmore handball

Duncan Watmore Middlesbrough 2021-22 FA CupGetty Images

Matt Crooks' second-half equaliser was a memorable moment for Middlesbrough as the Championship side pulled level with Manchester United at Old Trafford, but the goal wasn't without controversy.

After seeing Jadon Sancho open the scoring in the first half, Crooks pulled Boro level in the 64th minute. The match would eventually go to penalties after the game ended 1-1 after extra time, with the Championship outfit stunning the hosts to send them out of the FA Cup on spot-kicks.

But Crooks' goal was a controversial one as the ball struck Duncan Watmore's hand in the build-up to the goal. So why was it allowed to stand?

Watch the Watmore handball incident

Why was the goal allowed to stand?

Crooks' goal came in the 64th minute as he was teed up by Watmore, who was able to bring down a pass from Isaiah Jones.

However, the ball bounced up off Watmore's foot and onto his left hand before he fired the ball right into Crooks' path for the leveller.

United players surrounded referee Anthony Taylor in protest, but the goal was given as VAR determined that Watmore's handling of the ball was accidental.

Updated rules say that a handball can only be called if a "player deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, moving the hand/arm towards the ball".

A goal could be ruled out if the player "scores in the opponents' goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper".

By the letter of the law, the goal would have been disallowed if Watmore himself had scored but, as the handball was accidental and in the build-up, the goal was allowed to stand.

Coincidentally, the goal would have been ruled out in the 2020-21 season, prior to the tweak in the rules.

What's been said about it?

Speaking to ITV after the game, Watmore said: "It was completely accidental the handball.

"[It's] amazing to make a difference and set up Crooksy. Me and Crooksy were in a United age-group team together here - so it is even more special."

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Manchester United manager Ralf Rangnick disagreed, telling Match of the Day: "How can it be accidental if he controls the ball up in the air with his hand?

"It was clear it should not stand but in the end I was really surprised it stood."

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