Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers accused Hearts of gamesmanship last night and claimed the grass on the Tynecastle pitch had deliberately been left too long.
The surface was so overgrown, said Rodgers, that for the first time in his managerial career, a team of his had to bypass it by playing over rather than through the grass.
He went so far as to claim it was so long that the spectacle presented to the paying public was “not football”.
Celtic won the Premiership encounter 3-1, ending Hearts’ 14-match unbeaten run in front of the new main stand in Gorgie.
And Rodgers insisted the pitch issue was no laughing matter, despite a few raised eyebrows when he brought it up in his post-match press conference.
Referring to Scotland’s ongoing World Cup failures, the Northern Irishman pointed out: “You haven’t qualified for 20 years.
“We’re trying to develop players and a product here to move the game on.”
But Hearts manager Craig Levein scoffed at Rodgers’ remarks, quipping that if Celtic wished to specify the exact length of grass they preferred for their next visit, the Tynecastle groundsman would attend to it.
The surface has drawn criticism from other quarters this season, most notably when Hibs manager Neil Lennon insisted on two separate occasions that it wasn’t conducive to good football.
His team are due back there on Wednesday night for the final Edinburgh derby clash of the season.
Rodgers said: “From a football perspective I was disappointed. It’s the first time in my life I’ve said to a team of mine that to play from the back was a huge risk. Why? Because the ball was going to stick. I told them: ‘Listen, we’ll need to play direct as we can’t build the game.’
“We dominated the match, but, from the point of view of spectators, that wasn’t football,” he added.
Asked if leaving the grass long was gamesmanship, Rodgers said: “Of course it was. But, christ, from 20 years ago. This is not just about Celtic, it’s about the product of Scottish football.
“I’m talking about youngsters and gifted players in their team who can’t dribble or pass it because of the grass.”
Rodgers added that, considering Celtic had to play what he called a “totally foreign” style the win was “brilliant”.
Levein, who was critical of the match officials for disallowing a Hearts goal before his side took the lead, remembered Celtic’s complaints about the pitch the last time they visited Tynecastle in December, a game the home side won 4-0, adding that he wasn’t interested in their grumbles.
“There wasn’t enough grass the last time. If they tell me exactly how much they want, we’ll try and get it right for the next time they’re here,” added Levein
Told of those comments, Rodgers hit back: “They can probably have the pipes fixed for next time, too, so the grass can be watered. I heard they were broken when we asked for water.”