Hearts’ Sam Nicholson admits spitting - but not at official

Referee Nick Walsh dismisses Hearts winger Sam Nicholson (second from right) in the second half at McDiarmid Park. Picture: SNS
Referee Nick Walsh dismisses Hearts winger Sam Nicholson (second from right) in the second half at McDiarmid Park. Picture: SNS
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Hearts are set to appeal the red card shown to Sam Nicholson last night for apparently spitting at assistant referee Stephen Mitchell in the 1-0 defeat to St Johnstone in Perth.

With Hearts chasing the match after Joe Shaughnessy had given the home side a 1-0 advantage, the assistant ref accused the winger of spitting at him.

But while that was enough for referee Nick Walsh to send him off, the player insisted that the spit was not directed at the official.

Hearts manager Ian Cathro said: “We will look at the footage but my understanding from Sam and the players around the situation is there is no way of being able to read that as an aggressive thing.

“Sam says he just spat – not at the assistant referee. Players do that in a game of football, we’ve all seen that before.”

The Tynecastle boss was unhappy that Walsh was also the referee who sent off Isma Goncalves in the 2-0 defeat by Partick Thistle in February.

“It was the same situation at Partick Thistle, I think there were some parts in that game where he was a little bit quick to judge but let’s leave that there,” added Cathro.

“I’ve not went to speak to the referee. I don’t think there’s too much willingness to have that conversation just now, which I can understand.

“Now they are in a situation where they will be filing their report and that needs to be dealt with when we’ve got clarity.

“It’s a serious allegation and my understanding is that the assistant referee has made the decision. So that puts a lot of pressure on the assistant to be absolutely certain. We will be looking to appeal if we review this and decide Sam is innocent. But let’s do things one step at a time and deal with it properly and calmly.”

Last night’s result leaves Hearts with just five wins from 19 games and five points behind St Johnstone, who are now favourites for fourth place and the chance of qualifying for Europe.

Saints boss Tommy Wright said: “We deserved the win, without a doubt. Anyone who suggests otherwise is living in cuckoo land.” The Northern Irishman added that the victory showed the character of his players, who had been “galvanised” by the fallout from the fight between team-mates Danny Swanson and Richard Foster at Hamilton on Saturday, their sendings off and subsequent suspension.

Wright added: “On the investigation, the club will make a statement within the next 24 hours. Like anything, you have to go through the right processes. We’ll move on from it. There may have been a feeling that it would impact on the dressing room but that’s a load of rubbish. That just wouldn’t happen. They’re a great bunch.”