HEARTS head coach Robbie Neilson angrily criticised referee Willie Collum yesterday for two key decisions in the Edinburgh club’s 4-0 defeat by Celtic – and for refusing to explain those decisions afterwards.
The normally calm and undemonstrative Neilson argued that captain Morgaro Gomis should not have been red-carded eight minutes into the Scottish Cup fourth-round match for what the match official deemed to be a dangerous tackle on Scott Brown. Neilson also said that Celtic should not have received a penalty early in the second half when John Guidetti went down in the box despite there appearing to have been no contact with Hearts defender Brad McKay.
Guidetti’s goal made it 2-0 to Ronny Deila’s team, Virgil van Dijk having opened the scoring after half an hour. Further goals by Van Dijk and Antony Stokes wrapped up the win.
“I’ve watched both incidents,” Neilson said. “I’m disappointed in the outcome of both. I’m sure the referee will look at it again and have his own views after assessing them, but it’s done now, we move on.
“We were in a game last week where two players were booked for tackles that were far worse than Morgaro’s,” Neilson continued, referring to his team’s match against Rangers. “Morgaro goes in and wins the ball and the referee decides it’s a sending-off. Morgaro’s tackle, we can’t really argue against it because they always have things they can say – it’s reckless, or at pace – but for me the second one, the penalty, is the real changer in the game.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“I’m not going to try to get players sent off or booked retrospectively. Everyone else will make decisions on that. We can only focus on ourselves and from my point of view it was the wrong decision. I’m more annoyed at that, but I’m also more annoyed that you can’t speak to them [the match officials]. If somebody makes a mistake I would rather they just came and said ‘look, I did it’ and we could move on.”
Asked if he had attempted to speak to Collum later, Neilson continued: “I tried to. He wasn’t speaking to me. I don’t know what the rules are [about speaking to officials] – they change all the time. Some of them do [speak], some of them don’t.”
The one consolation for Neilson is that, with Hearts also having been knocked out of the League Cup by Celtic, he can now concentrate on the Championship, in which his team are unbeaten and have a nine-point lead. “We have to move on and use it as motivation to try to improve,” he added. “That’s football. I’m not going to let somebody’s performance be a blight on our start to the season.
“At the end of the day the league is the main focus. We’re out of the cup, not for the want of trying, but decisions went against us at key times.
“To be honest, when we went down to ten men I still thought we performed well but we lost a goal from the second phase at a corner. But coming in at half-time at 1-0 we still had a chance.But as soon as we got the second decision against us the game was finished. It was then a case of trying to keep our shape and see the game out.”
Celtic manager Ronny Deila, unperturbed by the controversial incidents, was pleased by the professional way in which his players had dealt with the contest. “I had been thinking a long time about this game with it’s importance,” he said. “I’m really happy and relieved to know the goals are still in sight and I know we are now going to have a fantastic spring. It was a calmer afternoon than I expected.
“Of course, the sending-off changed the game. It’s hard for me to say if it was a red card, but it was good we maintained our tempo. We had good pressing and got the four goals which made the victory comfortable.”
Asked his view of the Guidetti penalty, Deila said: “It wasn’t easy for me see it. It happened so quick. I haven’t spoken to him, but from my position it looked like a penalty. I think we had control of the game at that point. The red card was more important than the penalty.”
Hearts goalkeeper Neil Alexander declared the penalty “soft”, but accepted there might have been a case for the red card to be shown to Gomis. “It’s just a midfielder’s tackle,” he said. “He’s a wee bit late, he’s committed to the ball. Until I see it again it’s difficult to tell, it happened so quickly. But the referee has made his mind up.”
Celtic captain Brown was less inclined to give Collum the benefit of the doubt. “I didn’t think it was that bad, to be perfectly honest,” the Scotland midfielder said.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS