Robbie Neilson: Jamie Walker must not be tainted by dive ban

Hearts' new signing, Polish defender Krystian Nowak, at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS
Hearts' new signing, Polish defender Krystian Nowak, at Tynecastle. Picture: SNS
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Hearts boss Robbie Neilson says Jamie Walker should not be stigmatised by the cheating charges which have led to the winger being forced to sit out the next two matches.

While it is inevitable that some opposition fans will make an issue of the blot on the player’s copybook, his manager expects match officials to rise above it and ensure their view is not tainted by an incident he says is now firmly in the past.

“It shouldn’t feature in the mind of officials,” said Neilson. “They go into a game and judge the there and then. It shouldn’t be hanging there so I don’t expect it to be.”

The Gorgie club had appealed against the SFA citation for “an act of simulation” in last weekend’s match with Celtic, maintaining there was contact, but a three-man judicial panel disagreed, leaving Neilson with no option but to accept the ruling and reshuffle his pack ahead of today’s trip to Pittodrie.

“The reason we went along to the hearing was Jamie said there was contact,” Neilson added. “We looked at the video and we believed there was contact, but the people on the panel decided there wasn’t contact, so that’s it.

“We’re disappointed but we need to move on. Jamie will be a big miss for us in the next two games but it will give him a chance to get a rest.

“We have a decent squad. Perry Kitchen is back in, and Robbie Muirhead played on that left-hand side on Wednesday night and did really well for us. So we have options.”

Last term it was Aberdeen and Hearts jostling for position behind Celtic, Hearts edging the head to heads, with three wins to the Pittodrie side’s two, but Derek McInnes’ men ended the campaign in second place.

The Aberdeen boss has claimed they were the better team by some way, which his Hearts counterpart will privately dispute but publicly he took it on the chin and said it gives them added incentive to improve this term.

“Derek can say what he wants about it. They beat us so they were the better team last year,” said Neilson. “That’s it. The league never lies at the end. They were better than us. We hope we have progressed to a point where we can compete and be better than them. But we have to prove it.

“I expect the game against Aberdeen to be much the same as those last season. I expect a high intensity game with a lot of tackles and a lot of pressing. It’s going to be a tough game. Yes, Aberdeen have recruited but not in a way that changes their style a lot. It’s going to be the same.

“It is two teams who are trying to compete against each other in the league. It’s important both teams understand that. It is competitive but there is a respect as well.”

That kind of intensity and uncompromising competitiveness throws up the possibility of more yellow cards. With 12 already, in just two matches, continuing to rack them up at a similar rate could prove troublesome later in the campaign as suspensions unsettle the team but Neilson says there are contributing factors and is unperturbed by the mounting tally.

“It’s something we try and keep an eye on but we’ve been involved in the two most high-profile and high intensity games in Scotland. We’ve played the first and fourth in the league from last year and on Saturday we’ll play the second,” he said. “These games are always more intense and the referees always handle them slightly differently. You have to accept that bookings sometimes come in little patches depending on who you play. But it will be fine, it will even itself out.”

The Gorgie boss hopes he can bolster his squad further before the end of the transfer window, with a left-sided midfielder still top of the shopping list but he has latest acquisition Krystian Nowak available today.

“I’m excited to be here,” said the 22-year-old Pole. “It’s good here for me, we have a good training centre and the stadium is excellent. We also have a tremendous support. When I was here for the game against Celtic I felt good and wanted to play.

“I spoke with Blazej Augustyn and he told me all about the club. He spoke only good things. When it came to making the decision, it was easy.

“We share the same agent. Blazej said Hearts would be good for my career and a good step for me. I’ve played in Poland for four years and I want to go to the next stage. It’s a good place for me to do that.”

“He’s ready, he’s fit,” said Neilson. “He has trained with us for over three weeks so he should be in decent shape.”