THERE’S nothing quite like the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. As our nation’s heavyweights enter the fray, supporters the length and breadth of the country dare to dream of going up against the big boys and leaving them with a bloody nose.

Call me a romantic, but the Cup has always held a special place in my heart. It’s got nothing to do with my own team’s record – heck, I’ve not even seen them play at Hampden – but I unashamedly buy into the mythology behind it all. Between the giant-killings, the memorable days out and watching semi-pro or amateur teams punch above their weight, the oldest trophy in world football still retains its lustre for this humble scribe after all these years.

At least, it did. Now I’m not so sure.

You see, there’s been a rather sizeable change to the way that games are played on these shores this season. The decision to implement VAR midway through the cinch Premiership campaign was as baffling as it was poorly implemented and led to understandable criticism. After all, the competition’s rules have effectively been changed since the league returned from its World Cup hiatus.

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The problems with the technology and the ensuing havoc it has caused have been well-documented and frankly, there aren’t enough column inches to get through it all here. But even if we put all these issues to one side – the inconsistency, the delays, the confusion surrounding the handball rule – and pretend, just for a second, that it was perfectly implemented, the fourth round of the Cup was always going to be a point of contention.

As we know, the 12 top-flight sides have VAR while the rest of Scottish football does not. The cost of the technology means that the notion of bringing it in at Championship level and below is a non-starter – and leaves our national cup competition in a ridiculous situation.

We have now reached a point where teams are playing with different rules in the same round of the competition. Of the 16 ties scheduled over the weekend, three (Celtic v Morton, St Johnstone v Rangers and yesterday’s Edinburgh Derby) had VAR in use while the remaining 13 did not. The reason? Matches that are televised and feature a Premiership team at home get the video review treatment. The others don’t – at least, not until the quarter-final, where the technology becomes mandatory (although it is yet to be explained what will happen if a non-Premiership team is drawn at home at that stage).

It's a farce that would leave even Charlie Chaplin rolling his eyes in disbelief. How can it be fair that one game is officiated in one way, while another – at the very same round of the very same competition – is subject to a different set of rules?

Take Celtic’s 5-0 win over Morton on Saturday as a case in point. Dougie Imrie’s side had started the match pretty well and were giving the Glasgow giants a game until an intervention from VAR left them with a mountain to climb. The decision to award a penalty for Efe Ambrose’s handball beggared belief anyway, and quite how a team of officials could watch the incident multiple times and deem a spot-kick as a fair outcome is mystifying. But I digress.

The point here is that Kevin Clancy, the referee for the cup tie, did not initially interpret the incident as a foul committed by Ambrose. It wasn’t until it was reviewed dozens of times that the call was made and it simply wouldn’t have happened without VAR.

Even Celtic fans couldn’t wrap their heads around the decision – apart from one Twitter account, that argued that the penalty award was proof of an SFA conspiracy against Celtic as if it were some sort of false-flag operation, demonstrating a flourish of mental gymnastics that would have Simon Biles on her feet and applauding.

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VAR has changed the way matches are officiated, pure and simple. We know that the number of penalties awarded per Premiership game has doubled since the technology was introduced, so we can deduce that cup ties with VAR in place are twice as likely to have them awarded. But it doesn’t stop with incidents where the ref is sent to the pitchside monitor to have a gander at this or that. Linesmen are instructed to allow play to continue unless they are adamant that a player is offside, safe in the knowledge that VAR will act as something of a safety net. Can anyone honestly say that removing that contingency won’t have an effect on the way the game is overseen?

It doesn’t have to be this way. We appear to have taken the lead from our cousins south of the border, who have a similar policy in place for the use of VAR in the FA Cup and have faced the same criticisms. But not everyone has fallen into the same traps. In the DFB Pokal, for instance, the German FA opted not to use VAR until the quarter-final stage. And guess what? There are no concerns over sporting integrity in that neck of the woods. But then again, I suppose it helps when everyone is playing by the same rules.