DERBY rivals Jamie Walker and Lewis Stevenson have each been handed a two-match suspension for their actions during Sunday’s Edinburgh derby.
Referee Willie Collum sent off Scott Robertson of Hibs and Hearts’ Osman Sow, but their errant team-mates escaped punishment on the day and were able to see out the Championship match, which Hearts won 2-1. Officials apparently missed the moment late in the game when Stevenson had a sneaky dig at second-half substitute Walker, who reacted by going head to head with his rival. But having reviewed the footage, the SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny, has issued the pair with notices of complaint.
Walker was cited for violent conduct “by headbutting or attempting to headbutt an opposing player, namely Lewis Stevenson”, while Stevenson was charged with serious foul play “by stamping or attempting to stamp on an opposing player, namely Jamie Walker”.
The clubs have until 3pm today to appeal if they want to challenge the decision at a hearing tomorrow. According to official statements, both Hibernian and Hearts have said they will not contest the bans, although it is understood that the Easter Road side may still be weighing up their options. It means Hearts manager Robbie Neilson will have to cope without yet another of his first-team squad in the Petrofac Training Cup tie at Livingston tonight.
He is already without the services of Sow and has been forced to keep the goalkeeping merry-go-round spinning. With Neil Alexander and Scott Gallacher already ruled out with a broken cheekbone and injured ankle respectively, young Jack Hamilton, who was thrust into the Edinburgh derby, is cup-tied to Stenhousemuir and therefore ineligible for his second first-team start for the Tynecastle club.
Instead, short-term signing Lee Hollis, who only joined the club on Friday, will become the club’s fourth goalkeeper in three games when he makes his debut at Almondvale, with former Partick Thistle keeper Bryn Halliwell signed up on a loan deal from junior side Sauchie to provide cover from the bench.
“The goalkeeping situation is a strange one,” admitted assistant manager Stevie Crawford. “Lee [Hollis] has come in on a short-term and he will probably play against Livingston, with Neil [Alexander], Scott [Gallacher] and young Robbie Brown all injured. We have also had to bring someone else in because we need to have a goalkeeper on the bench. But these freak accidents happen and we need to deal with it properly.”
Thus far the personnel issues have not derailed the Gorgie outfit’s on-field ambitions. Maximum points from the opening two league matches, against Rangers and Hibs, have made them many pundits’ favourites to clinch the Championship title and bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt.
“Taking six points from six is very pleasing, even more so when we have gone to Ibrox and faced Hibs with a new squad and management team and still managed victories. It is something to build on but not something to get carried away with. We will certainly not be getting ahead of ourselves because football is there to trip you up and if we go out against Livingston, then it is back to the drawing board and everything becomes difficult again.
“It is not for us to label ourselves favourites, that’s dangerous. What I would say is that a club the size of Hearts should be up there challenging to win the title.”
Without Sow and Walker and with Dale Carrick still sidelined with a thigh injury, there will be the chance for Gary Oliver, James Keatings and Scott Robinson to stake a claim for more regular involvement.
“It’s not just the starting 11 which has done well. Boys have come off the bench to contribute and play their part,” said Crawford.
Robinson has been kicking his heels as the season got underway, ostracised by a three-match league suspension that does not expire until after Saturday’s match away to Raith Rovers, while Oliver has been unlucky not to see his pre-season form rewarded with more game time.
The 19-year-old, who was another late substitute for Hearts on Sunday, described team-mate Walker’s retrospective punishment as “harsh” but it won’t take the sheen off his experience.
“At my age, to get on at a derby is a dream come true. Hopefully there’s more to come,” he said.
With four goals in pre-season, the striker feels he is in fine form and wants to play his part, but accepts that with so much competition for places he will have to be patient. “We are all doing well and we have got off to a good start to the season. I’m happy for [the boys in the starting line-up] to be winning, so long as I get my chance. I did well in pre-season and I’ve been scoring a lot of goals, but with Osman there, who is a quality striker, it is hard.
“But I have my chance now that he is out for a few games and I just need to take it. It’s a good opportunity and I’m hoping I will get a start against Livingston and I can then show people what I can do.”