Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson has insisted the club will defend their winger Jamie Walker against a charge of cheating and a possible two-match ban and he has challenged the SFA to produce irrefutable proof to substantiate their claims that the capital player took a dive in Sunday’s Premiership match.
Club representatives will attend a hearing at Hampden tomorrow in a bid to have the indictment quashed, with Neilson reiterating his player’s statement that there was contact between himself and Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney before Walker was awarded a controversial penalty by referee John Beaton in the sides’ league opener.
Walker converted the spot-kick to cancel out James Forrest’s early effort. Although the defending champions went on to get the winner courtesy of new boy Scott Sinclair, they were infuriated by the penalty decision, with Parkhead skipper Scott Brown branding Walker “a cheat”.
Having reviewed the incident, Scottish FA compliance officer Tony McGlennan agreed, issuing a notice of complaint. An SFA statement issued to Walker said: “You committed an act of simulation in that you did pretend that you were fouled by a player on the opposing team, namely Kieran Tierney, and did thereafter dive in the penalty box of the opposing team. That this act of simulation caused a match official to make an incorrect decision, namely the incorrect awarding of a penalty to Heart of Midlothian FC.”
Neilson said he was not worried that his player’s reputation could be harmed by the cheating claims. “No, because there is contact there,” said the Hearts boss. And he remains hopeful that they can submit a strong enough argument to have the ban overturned, saying that Celtic themselves had set a precedence in such matters.
“We looked at the same incident in the same corner two years ago, with Guidetti [when Celtic striker John Guidetti won a penalty despite there being no contact with the then Hearts defender Brad McKay]. He said he slipped and didn’t get banned. Well, there is contact on Walker, he goes down, it’s a penalty kick.
“For me, if you go for a tackle in the box and miss the ball and there is any contact on the player then the player’s momentum is broken and he has to go down it’s a penalty. But whatever we sit here and say, ultimately it’s the referee who makes the decision. I’m sure if it was a Celtic player and there is contact in the box and he goes down then that’s it, penalty.”
Neilson was annoyed that Brown, who has himself been booked for simulation in the past, had been so outspoken in his post-match comments, and labelled the Celtic
“I don’t think it’s right to make comments on other footballers,” Neilson said. “A referee makes a decision and if you have something to say, say it in private. Jamie told us he felt contact. He got himself out the way of a leg that is coming through. The referee made a decision on it and Jamie doesn’t appeal for the penalty.”
But in addressing the SFA complaint, Neilson was emphatic. “We will definitely appeal because I believe from the footage we have seen there is slight contact,” he added. “You look at the camera from every angle and there is no indication there was no contact – other than people saying there is no contact.”
Which is one reason he will be angry that a notice of complaint was served. “If they are going to process a charge then it is being done on the strength of people talking on the TV and in the press. The players said there was contact and all the cameras they look at can’t prove there wasn’t contact.”
The Hearts manager, who will have Walker available for tonight’s League Cup tie against St Johnstone, added that all the footage analysed by the club showed players crossing at high speed and insisted, in his opinion, there was no conclusive proof to uphold any claim of cheating.