Ref’s calls add to bedlam in Saints v Hearts tie

Alan Mannus shoves Ryan Stevenson into the back of the net. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Alan Mannus shoves Ryan Stevenson into the back of the net. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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The sight of the outfield player anxiously pulling on an outsized goalkeeper jersey is too rarely seen in these days of substitute goalkeepers. But it was one of several thrilling moments for the neutral to savour at McDiarmid Park on Saturday.

St Johnstone 3-3 Hearts

Scorers: St Johnstone - May (pen 39, 49, pen 62); Hearts 3 - Carrick (58), Nicholson (89), Wilson (90)

Even for those who favour either of the two sides who served up such a treat, it had to be viewed as entertaining, if stressful. There was, however, a sting in the tail – for both teams it turns out. Although Hearts grabbed a point with two goals in the dying minutes, they now fear Ryan Stevenson, who received a red card for violent conduct along with St Johnstone goalkeeper Alan Mannus in this same frenetic period, will be suspended for the forthcoming League Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as well as this weekend’s league clash with Ross County. B

Because of St Johnstone’s rearranged league meeting with Partick Thistle tomorrow evening, Mannus is available for the Perth side’s League Cup semi-final clash with Aberdeen.

Of course, Hearts can ill-afford to lose one of their few experienced players, and it is particularly frustrating because it was avoidable. While the Tyncastle club may yet appeal, photographs of Stevenson with both hands grabbing Mannus’s throat do not provide much basis for optimism.

Surprisingly given his performance throughout, this might have been a decision that referee Brian Colvin got right. Even on those occasions when he surrendered the major calls to his assistants, the results were hugely debatable. The first contentious moment arrived on 21 minutes after Steven Anderson had upended Dale Carrick in his attempt to retrieve the situation following a poor passback by Gary McDonald. Considering the incident occurred about 35 yards from goal, and the touch that Carrick had taken was set to take him to an even wider position in the field, the red card shown to Anderson seemed very hash indeed.

Remarkably, defender/emergency ’keeper Tam Scobbie later revealed that Colvin remained unsure about the merits of the decision, and embarked on a lengthy spell of dialogue with the players.

“He was running about asking everyone’s opinion on whether it was a red card,” he said. “I think there was doubt in his mind. He was just asking, ‘Do you think it was a red card, do you think he was getting in?’ When the ref is asking questions like that, he is obviously putting doubt into his mind. I think it was the linesman who made the decision.

“When the ref was running towards the incident, I heard him saying, ‘Is it a red? Is it a red?’ I think the linesman made that decision for him and it was a hard one to take.

“I’ve never encountered a ref asking players if they thought it was a red card or not,” he added. Colvin’s own day went from bad to worse when Kevin McHattie was penalised for a tug on Nigel Hasselbaink six minutes before half-time. Again, an assistant referee was left to make the call. It seemed again to be in error. For a start, the offence – if there was one – looked to have occurred outside the box, but Michael Banks, the far-side assistant, thought otherwise. Nevertheless, Stevie May rocketed home his first of the afternoon from the penalty spot. And there was still much more drama to come.

St Johnstone stretched their lead four minutes after half-time. May somehow shovelled the ball into the net from a grounded position after Jamie MacDonald had saved his original effort. Just before the hour mark, Hearts reduced the deficit courtesy of Dale Carrick’s header after McHattie’s cross. McHattie was left kicking the air in frustration after he was penalised for handball in 63 minutes when May chipped the ball against him. Again, it looked rather harsh – though Hearts manager Gary Locke accepted the decision afterwards. May rifled home his second penalty to complete his hat-trick. His status as story of the afternoon seemed secured.

However, with three minutes remaining, substitute Sam Nicholson sliced home Hearts’ second goal from close range after Mannus had saved his original shot. It was the St Johnstone goalkeeper’s last lawful intervention. He and Stevenson became involved in a prolonged scuffle amid a multi-player rammy in the back of the net as Hearts attempted to retrieve the ball.

Red cards were duly delivered to those deemed by Colvin to be the principal antagonists. With St Johnstone have already used all three substitutes, we were presented with the sight of Scobbie pulling on the ’keeper’s jersey, like a man condemned. When Hearts won a corner in the final minute, Scobbie looked more than a little vulnerable. Still, not even Mannus could have kept out Danny Wilson’s header. As the Hearts skipper raced towards their frolicking fans, MacDonald, too, joined the happy throng after running all the way from own his goal to salute the point gained – despite the fact Hearts ended the day further adrift at the foot of the table than they started it.

Even half-time was not without incident. An ambulance reversed onto the track to transport Murray Davidson to hospital. The St Johnstone midfielder damaged his knee when he landed awkwardly following an aerial challenge. It was later revealed that another ambulance had been called to the front of the stadium after Tommy Campbell, the former Forfar Athletic manager and now St Johnstone kitman, suffered chest pains during the interval.

Locke later stressed that, whatever his own delight at the late comeback, all thoughts had to be with Campbell. Nevertheless, his side’s comeback was a tribute to both him and Billy Brown, who was on duty for the last time as assistant manager on Saturday. “They showed spirit and showed that the boys want to play for us – and that’s a great thing for a management team,” said Locke.

Referee: B Colvin

Attendance: 3,395