Judging by the comments that have been flying one way and then the other, Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson and his Hamilton counterpart Martin Canning are unlikely to see eye to eye on the severity of Ali Crawford’s challenge on Jamie Walker in Monday night’s league draw. But they both agreed that they were happy to see the player avoid a red card.
Speaking immediately after the game, the furious Tynecastle boss said Crawford’s tackle was “terrible” and stated there is “no place for it” in football. But responding to that slight, his dugout rival maintained the crude lunge was “not as bad a tackle as it’s being made out to be”.
Neilson is not backing down, though. Thankful that Walker escaped serious injury with so many tough games looming, he just smiled at the Lanarkshire side’s version of events. But he did concede that while he still believes a red card was justified, he is now glad that the referee allowed the player to remain on the pitch.
“I accept that Jamie will take physical contact as he takes the ball in tight areas and he takes people on and that is part and parcel of being the type of player that he is,” said Neilson. “When it steps over the line then it is up to the referee to deal with it, but when he doesn’t deal with it then he is not doing his job at the end of the day.
“The player showed intent in the tackle and my opinion on it has not changed from that time. But Jamie is okay. Thankfully he saw the challenge coming and managed to get his legs up because if his feet had have been planted he would have been in trouble.
“Managers see different things because they are trying to protect their players. My complaint is that Jamie did not get protection from the referee. It is a red card let’s be honest – everybody knows it is a red card and the referee didn’t do it. Why he didn’t do it – who knows?
“But it does not affect us as it was the last minute of the game and in retrospect I am actually glad that he did not send Ali Crawford off as he is going to be playing teams that are round about us and it gives them a better advantage to beat teams that we are competing with. I won’t be chasing it up as it is done and dusted.”
While the match represented another two points dropped, Neilson said that he can still extrapolate positives from the display, including the character shown by the side to battle back from a 3-1 deficit to level in the latter stages, and the fact that despite the strikers coming up empty again, they are continuing to score goals as a team.
But having won just two in the last eight games in a frustrating stop-start phase of the season, and with everyone other than Sam Nicholson fit and available for selection, he wants to make the most of the upcoming run of eight matches to make a move on the teams above them ahead of the winter shutdown.
“We have some good games coming up – Motherwell [at Tynecastle tomorrow] and then Rangers twice and Ross County away and we want to try and kick on into December.
“It is much better when you can play game, game, game and you go into training focusing on matches that bring an intensity to things. With the international break, it is hard to work on stuff when you only have half a squad.”
Tomorrow’s game is against a side they have already defeated this season, but Neilson’s men have won only once since that 3-1 triumph at Fir Park, leaving the fans restless for a turnaround in fortunes and a more consistent sequence of wins as they try to stamp their authority on a campaign that has proved slightly topsy-turvy at times.
“It’s a common theme in Scottish football; very rarely do you get all good, or we wouldn’t be here,”Neilson added. “So it’s part and parcel, we have to accept that. It’s about trying to make them better and trying to focus on the good things and deal with some of the things that went wrong.”