The Hearts board had hoped to sell Kello to Austria Vienna last week to raise some much-needed funds, but the Slovakian, who is out of contract at the end of this season, turned down the move. The board’s response, according to Sergio, was to bar him from the team on the grounds that he was not committed to the club.
“There is an issue running between him and our board, a political thing,” Sergio said. “I was told that because Marian is not committed with the future with Hearts, we should play the others. It’s a tough situation. We will wait [and see] what happens between Marian and the board after they talk.”
Jamie MacDonald played in the cup match, with Mark Ridgers on the bench. Both goalkeepers agreed new contracts last month, when Hearts brought in transfer fees for Eggert Jonsson and Ryan Stevenson, but they had also hoped for offers for David Templeton and Marius Zaliukas as well as Kello.
The future at Tynecastle for the 29-year-old keeper is uncertain, and Sergio accepted that, unless there was a change in the board’s stance he would be unable to include Kello for the league match at home to Celtic on Wednesday night. “If the situation is like it is now, no, I don’t believe it,” he said. “But we never know.”
Kello was also ordered out of the Hearts squad last season when Jim Jefferies was manager, having incurred the displeasure of club owner Vladimir Romanov for a matter that was never publicly explained. Yesterday is thought to be the first time that Sergio has been denied the right to select his own team.
MacDonald played reasonably well without having many difficult saves to make, and was only beaten when his defence were caught flat-footed by a St Johnstone break from inside their own half. Asked if goalscorer Cillian Sheridan had been offside, Sergio said: “I’m not sure. When you lose a goal like that you always think it should be offside. If it’s not, it’s our mistake.”
The manager was more certain that his team should have been awarded a penalty when Dave Mackay, who was later sent off, appeared to handle in the box. “I think it’s clear,” he said. “I think everybody can see that. I don’t want to get myself in trouble with the ref, but it’s a mistake. I make my mistakes, too.
“And at the second yellow card for the St Johnstone player [Mackay] we had a situation where it was four against one. We should have played advantage, and we had time after for [the referee to give] a second yellow card or not.” However, Sergio accepted that his team had not played well overall. St Johnstone manager Steve Lomas, by contrast, enthused about his team’s performance. “I never doubt my boys’ fighting spirit,” he said. “It’s a great trait to have.”
Lomas thought Mackay’s second booking had been harsh, arguing that a player should not be penalised for dangerous play if he has his back to his opponent.