Hearts had been looking for something to galvanise them and kick start their season and things certainly kicked off at Tynecastle yesterday as referee Bobby Madden succeeded in doing something no-one else has this term by unifying the home team and their fans and ensuring the boos that rained down on the pitch were reserved for him.
It was an afternoon where he flashed 10 yellow cards, a red and also sent Hearts manager Craig Levein, and his assistant Austin MacPhee to the stand as tempers flared and frustration reigned supreme.
And when the dust settled, the teams emerged from the ruck with a share of the spoils. It means that Hearts have now gone six games without a win, while Hamilton have managed to piece together a similar run of matches without defeat.
“It does feel like points dropped if I am being honest,” said the Hamilton gaffer, who had seen his men enjoy an extra man advantage for almost an hour of the match. “It was a big opportunity for us to come here and beat Hearts and it feels to me that we let that slip So there is a bit of frustration.”
Frustration was in plentiful supply, with Levein admitting that he had been left boiling at what he believed were inconsistencies in the match officials’ decisions, accusing Madden of making mistakes and losing control of proceedings. It was a view supported by the majority of the 15,000 Hearts fans in the stands and his players.
It was a contest that certainly degenerated into something of a battle early doors, with feistiness to the fore as the teams sought to gain the upperhand.
In the fourth minute David Milinkovic burst forward at pace down the right after robbing the guests of possession but when he cut the ball back across goal, it was cleared before anyone in maroon could get close. But while Hearts started brightly, there was already an edge to proceedings, with the fourth official being barracked by both managers. It erupted after 20 minutes when Levein took umbrage as another foul was granted against captain Christophe Berra for felling David Templeton.
The former Gorgie winger was causing a number of problems, running at the home rearguard and he helped Hamilton wrestle back greater control.
Four minutes later Antonio Rojano sent an angled drive high and wide and shortly after Templeton made the most of a Berra slip by darting in on goal and forcing the Hearts defender to bring him down on the edge of the area but he fired the set piece over.
Hamilton then benefited from naivety from Hearts full-back Jamie Brandon, who stupidly lunged in on Dougie Imrie to earn a booking and then, soon after catching Rojano with an elbow. Madden was slow to respond but eventually sent him packing for his second booking.
Riled but also rattled Hearts had to weather a bullish ending to the first half from their guests, with Jon McLaughlin reacting swiftly to get off his line and block a MacKinnon strike. A quick counter from Hamilton caused further consternation in the Hearts ranks as a handball was missed but a Arnaud Djoum foul was immediately called.
McLaughlin then had to tip a Templeton header over the bar.
In the second half the hosts tried to channel their frustrations into a performance intended to defy the odds and, as the yellow cards continued to add up, it was Hamilton who paid the price.
Lewis Moore have replaced Isma Goncalves at the interval and, after he was brought down by Mackinnon, Jamie Walker stepped up to curl the free-kick into the corner of Gary Woods’ net.
Every call made by Madden was inviting greeted with chants of cheat and a barrage of complaints and when Levein reacted angrily after John Souttar was booked for a foul on Templeton, the referee also ran out of patience and after a bizarre stand-off, with both men demanding the other come to him, the Hearts boss was sent to the stand.
He was joined there seven minutes later by his assistant Austin MacPhee, who had antagonised Mackinnon by getting hold of the ball in the dugout and when the midfielder tried to take possession both men ended up in a heap on the ground and mayhem ensued, with police officers and match officials having to intervene and restore a modicum of calm.
In between Milinkovic saw an effort zip wide of the far post, while Templeton rattled an effort off the post and Rojano denied by McLaughlin, who also pulled off saves from Xavier Thomas, Rakish Bingham and Thomas again, with Souttar also clearing off the line. But eh could do nothing to prevent the 69th minute equaliser, which came off the head of Thomas. That ensured a share of the points and did nothing to take the sting out of things as, even after the final whistle the war of words raged on.