Craig Levein hopes SPFL sanction won’t hurt Hearts League cup hopes

Hearts' Andrew Irving during a training session at Oriam. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Hearts' Andrew Irving during a training session at Oriam. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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Hearts manager Craig Levein is hoping the SPFL are “reasonable” with any sanction imposed over the appearance of the ineligible Andy Irving in Wednesday’s Betfred Cup win against Cove Rangers.

The Gorgie outfit have held their hands up to fielding the midfielder as a second-half substitute in the 2-1 victory, even though the 18-year-old’s official registration expired on 9 June because his contract extension was not properly submitted to the Scottish FA in January.

Hearts, who take on Raith Rovers in their second Group C match at Bayview today, will send a delegation to Hampden to plead their case at Monday’s hearing.

Although there are no recent precedents regarding similar incidents in the Betfred Cup group stages, Livingston were ordered to replay their Irn-Bru Cup clash with Crusaders in 2016 after playing the suspended Alan Lithgow in their initial win.

Albion Rovers, however, were kicked out of the same competition for fielding Liam McGuigan, who was not registered, in last August’s victory over Spartans, who were subsequently handed a 3-0 win.

Hearts were leading 2-0 at the point of Irving’s 65th minute introduction and Levein, pictured, is praying any punishment does not seriously harm their hopes of progressing in the competition.

He said: “I have to be careful with what I say about it – there is a hearing on Monday – although naturally I would hope that any sanction would not be damaging to our prospects in this competition.

“I’m as interested as you are in what happens here but what I don’t want to do is speak too much about it and harm our chances of getting a reasonable sanction.

“I don’t want to pre-empt anything that happens at the hearing.

“It’s a bizarre situation, it was back in January that we signed him on a new deal and we’re normally right on the ball with these kind of things. We found out on Thursday morning that something was wrong and it’s slightly embarrassing, as (owner) Ann Budge said.

“I think it’s interesting because I don’t know if there have been any sanctions handed out in the League Cup group stage.

“Normally it’s one club against another club and the sanction is based around what happened in that game. There is no potential damage to anyone else.

“In the group stage, goal difference could have an impact on other teams – I really don’t know.

“I have no idea what the sanctions are because I think this is an unusual situation.

“Whatever happens, we need to be doubly focused on the remaining matches against Raith, Cowdenbeath 
then Inverness.”

Levein, meanwhile, is pleased that the arrival of Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Colin Doyle provides him with two players fighting for the gloves.

Doyle signed a two-year deal on Thursday after spending the last two seasons with 
Bradford City.

Czech shot-stopper Zdenek Zlamal joined earlier this summer as the recognised number one but Levein insists he does not regard Doyle as a 
back-up.

He said: “I am really thrilled with the signing of Colin. To have that competition for that position makes me feel really good.

“After signing Bobby (Zlamal), I was initially looking for a number two goalkeeper. Actually saying it makes me feel that that isn’t a proper thing. We have two goalkeepers fighting for the number one spot.

“They are both experienced goalkeepers and they have both been in the same situation before.

“Bobby is in possession of the jersey just now because I thought he did quite well against Cove.”