DUNDEE United manager Jackie McNamara could not resist a sideswipe at League Cup final opponents Celtic after the SFA’s disciplinary tribunal yesterday cleared Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton to play in Sunday’s Hampden decider.
McNamara said he had no faith in the judicial system but expressed his satisfaction that no player from either side would miss the final as a result of the controversies that have dominated the build-up following the tempestuous Scottish Cup quarter-final between the sides at Tannadice last Sunday.
However, the United manager again questioned Celtic’s part in the fall-out from the last-eight tie, which included their claims that Aidan Connolly should have faced retrospective punishment for diving after he won his side the penalty from which they scored in the 1-1 draw.
Paton’s red card in the quarter-final was always going to be rescinded as he was the clear victim of mistaken identity. He was erroneously sent off after assistant Graham Chambers informed referee Craig Thomson the player had tangled on the ground with Van Dijk, when that struggle had been Calum Butcher and the Dutchman.
The incident followed a hefty challenge by Celtic captain Scott Brown on Nadir Ciftci that resulted in the SFA compliance officer, Tony McGlennan, handing United’s Turkish forward a two-match ban for a kick to Brown’s head. However the sanction failed to be upheld after the panel returned a not proven verdict when the player appealed.
Following two yellow cards in early rounds of the League Cup, Ciftci was always suspended for the final.
Now, though, he will be free to feature in parts three and four of the quartet of confrontations between the clubs that will take the form of a Celtic Park double-header with their meetings in the Scottish Cup and Premiership next week. Ronny Deila declared that “the right decision” had been made with Van Dijk’s red card for violent conduct rescinded, but not over Connolly escaping entirely scot-free. That has been a consistent line from the Celtic camp, with the club earlier in the week also releasing a statement in which they expressed their disgruntlement that disciplinary protocols prevented Butcher facing the threat of missing the final that had stalked Van Dijk until yesterday.
McNamara praised his squad for remaining above the blame-game that has ensued from last weekend as he maintained their thoughts have remained strictly on the major occasion in the offing. “The players have been really relaxed and focused. From our point of view, we have kept our silence and our focus on Sunday,” he said. “We haven’t mentioned anything about wanting anyone suspended or this guy has done this or that.
“We’re focused on our own team. The last thing I’d want is any of my players to speak out about the opposition and whatnot when it’s been dealt with by the authorities. I’m pleased they haven’t. That might have taken their focus away from the game. It shouldn’t. This is a different game on Sunday. It’s a cup final – Sunday is history and won’t affect anything that happens.”
Yet McNamara also stated that he could “understand” Celtic’s anger over the fact that Van Dijk but not Butcher had to appear at Hampden yesterday. “The two of them were in a melee but due to the loophole or rules, whether it’s right or wrong, that’s just the way it is. I don’t think the whole thing is right. But again it’s outwith my control.
“Calum was quite relaxed about it all. He’s not hit the rooftops – the whole thing has kind of been blown up out of proportion. At the time, if the referee had dealt with it right at the start, it wouldn’t have carried on to what it did.
“But officials are human. Players have made a lot of mistakes on Sunday, as have the officials.
“I’m not criticising them because it’s a hard job. It’s hard enough refereeing the five-a-sides with the players and seeing who has caught who and who has made a mistake. So I understand how difficult their job is.”
The error-strewn afternoon endured by the arbiters last Sunday and the perplexing leniency shown towards Ciftci and Van Dijk has hardly made this week an auspicious one for the governance of the Scottish game.
As they geared up for part two of the four-game series between their teams that will bring a Premiership and Scottish Cup replay Celtic Park double-header in the week after the final, both McNamara and Deila said yesterday there were obvious merits to introducing a video replay system, as exists in rugby and cricket. But both were alive to the impracticalities – its “unaffordability” being a key stumbling block McNamara highlighted.
Deila, meanwhile, sought to downplay any suggestions that the case for introducing video evidence is made all the more pressing in Scotland because of the failings of the country’s match officials. “We have to play our part,” he said. “The game on Sunday was very intense and the pitch was very poor. You get more challenges and we can’t get the tempo up and it becomes more physical. It was a tough game to be a referee. I think they have been OK.”
Celtic’s Nir Bitton will be given until the very last minute ahead of Sunday’s final to prove he has shaken off an ankle injury sustained at Tannadice, the Israeli having failed to train since.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS