Hearts unhappy at ‘imbalanced, unacceptable’ fixture list

Hearts' John Souttar holds off Aberdeen's Niall McGinn at Tynecastle, which will only host two more games this season. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Hearts' John Souttar holds off Aberdeen's Niall McGinn at Tynecastle, which will only host two more games this season. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
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The “inherently imbalanced” system employed by the SPFL to calculate post-split fixtures in the Premiership has been laid bare by Hearts, who yesterday registered their disappointment at being given three away trips.

In a statement explaining to supporters why the Tynecastle side have been allocated three away games, the club notes that “in an ideal world each team would complete 
19 home and 19 away league fixtures per season”.

But this isn’t the case for Craig Levein’s side, who will play 20 away matches after being handed trips to face Rangers, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock. The game against Rangers is the third time the teams have met this season in the league at Ibrox. Hearts host successive games against Celtic and then city rivals Hibs.

Kilmarnock must also travel to face Rangers, for a third time at Ibrox, but have been allocated an equal number of home and away matches in the season.

Due to the structure of the league, and depending on which teams are in the bottom and top half of the split, it’s not always possible to keep everything balanced. Teams are at risk of being given an imbalanced fixtures list, particularly if they are positioned in the mid-table region and have, in theory, less to play for. “While unacceptable, it is felt to be the ‘least unacceptable’ option,” notes the statement.

Kilmarnock, currently in fifth place but who could move to within four points of fourth-placed Hibs if they beat Hamilton Accies this weekend in a rearranged fixture, were disadvantaged three years ago in the post-split fixtures. They have been handed three away games this time around, meaning they will have played 19 games at home and 19 away.

Despite relying on the goodwill of fellow clubs at the start of the season as work on the new main stand was delayed, causing fixtures to be relocated to Murrayfield, Hearts feel ill-served by a system that is so patently unsuitable if striving to keep a level playing field for all is the aim. Hearts accept they are part of the problem – after all, the clubs voted to implement a split and have, to date, consented to persevere with it.

“Whilst the club is disappointed about this situation, it is a consequence of the inherently imbalanced system that the SPFL clubs have elected to operate,” said the statement released yesterday afternoon.

“Hearts currently occupies sixth place in the Ladbrokes Premiership, behind Kilmarnock in fifth,” it added. “It is the club’s understanding that Kilmarnock was disadvantaged in the post-split fixtures during the 2014/15 season. Again, in an effort to be as fair as possible to all clubs, previous imbalances are taken into account when determining the fixtures. Hearts are, therefore, unfortunately in the position of having to play three of the remaining five matches away from home.”

The statement continued: “In an ideal world, each team would complete 19 home and 19 away league fixtures per season. Due to the structure of the league, however, this is not always possible. Depending upon which teams are in the top and bottom sections of the split, the situation can arise which causes an imbalance.

“In order to make the best of this less than perfect situation, some broad guidelines are followed in setting post-split fixtures. In simple terms, where an imbalance is inevitable, ‘mid-table’ teams (clubs in positions 5,6,7 and 8) are those that potentially lose out by having an uneven split of home and away games across the full season (i.e. 18 home/20 away). This recognises that the top four teams are potentially fighting for top spot or to secure a place in Europe, and the bottom four teams may well be fighting to avoid relegation/play-offs.”

It added: “While unacceptable, it is felt to be the ‘least unacceptable’ option.”

The SPFL has faced mounting criticism for the time taken to publish the post-split fixture list. Originally slated to be released on either Monday or Tuesday, the details were not confirmed until 4pm yesterday. An SPFL spokesman said: “We want to thank supporters for the patience they have shown during the compilation of the post-split fixture schedule.

“Working with the 12 clubs, Police Scotland and our 
broadcast partners to produce a set of fixtures that meets everyone’s requirements can often be a complex and time-consuming process, but fans can now look forward to 
an exciting conclusion to 
the Ladbrokes Premiership campaign.”