Celtic captain Scott Brown launched a scathing attack on Hearts midfielder Jamie Walker, labelling him a “cheat” for the way he earned a penalty kick in a dramatic Scottish Premiership opener at Tynecastle.
Walker converted the spot-kick himself after going down in the box despite no contact with Celtic full-back Kieran Tierney. Referee John Beaton later apologised to Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers for the error after seeing TV footage.
Celtic, who had led through an early James Forrest goal, went on to secure all three points as substitute Scott Sinclair got the winner on his debut after completing a £3.5 million move from Aston Villa.
But that did not soothe Brown’s anger at Walker, which even saw him direct sharp words at the Hearts player as they passed each other on their respective way in and out of the media room after the match.
“Dive, cheat – what else can you say?” said Brown when asked about the penalty incident. “He [Walker] is really good at that. He should be in Rio just now. The referee has come out at half-time and said he got it completely wrong.
“The wee guy dives and you have to expect that.
“Sometimes there is no place in football for cheats and that has been a couple of times here now.”
But an unrepentant Walker claimed he did feel a touch from Tierney before he hit the turf.
“I felt contact,” said Walker. “I knocked the ball on and I just saw him coming out the corner of my eye and I felt contact so I went down.
“Kieran Tierney did go to try to clear the ball and I felt contact. The referee pointed to the spot and I put it away. At the end of the day I’m not the referee and I don’t give the decisions.”
Rodgers was understandably satisfied with a winning start to Celtic’s title defence and especially gratified by Sinclair’s contribution following a lengthy pursuit of the 27-year-old who previously played for him at Swansea City.
“I’ve been looking to get him for a long time because I know the impact he can have,” said Rodgers. “He knows how I work. He’s super-fast and that hopefully will be one of many goals he can get for Celtic. It was an outstanding goal.
“He couldn’t ask for any more, especially after only getting about three hours’ sleep on Friday night after travelling up and having a long day yesterday.
“He’ll run and be direct, he wants to get goals. He scored 27 goals for me in the Championship for Swansea and he wants to get in there and score goals here. His natural habitat is off that left side, joining in the game and getting in the box to score goals.”
Sinclair, who will be formally presented to the media today, admitted he was surprised to be included in the squad.
“It is an amazing feeling,” he said. “I didn’t think I would be involved with the squad but the manager said I was fit. It was great I could come in and score the winner. This is why I came to Celtic – to play games, score goals and start enjoying it again. Hopefully it can continue.”
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson expressed surprise at Sinclair’s inclusion, having been under the impression it was not possible to register players with the Scottish FA over the weekend. He had hoped to complete a deal for Polish defender Krystian Nowak before yesterday’s game.
“We were told the SFA shuts at 5pm on a Friday – obviously, it doesn’t,” said Neilson. “So I was surprised a little bit to see Sinclair’s name on the teamsheet but again, what are the rules? Is it as it goes along?
“Apparently if someone turns up at the SFA on a Saturday they can put it through. But we didn’t know that. We know now.”