Common sense has prevailed, with Billy Brown reinstated as assistant manager until the end of January and allowed to take his place in the dugout for the Inverness semi-final on February 2.
In order for Hearts to move forward in semi-harmonious fashion, Gary Locke’s trusty No.2 now has to be given the green light to remain in situ for as long as the current manager is at the helm.
If Brown is no longer at the club next month, it will be akin to those who hold power at Hearts sticking two fingers up at the manager.
Any manager worth their salt would, understandably, be apoplectic with rage if they weren’t at least consulted over whether or not their assistant was retained.
For example, it is hard to envisage Terry Butcher remaining at Hibs if Rod Petrie decided to cut Maurice Malpas out of the equation, while there would have been all hell to pay if Vladimir Romanov had initiated the removal of Paulo Sergio’s lieutenants, Sergio Cruz and Alberto Cabral a couple of weeks before the 2012 Scottish Cup semi-final.
Granted, Hearts are currently in a different situation to most clubs given that they are in administration. Locke would have had no problem accepting Brown being culled if he were taking home a handsome wage and his very presence was jeopardising the future of the club. But anyone who has been paying attention knows that is far from the case. Brown is taking home a pittance in the grand scheme and, in any case, has already proved his willingness to work for free.
Axing Brown makes no sense whatsoever if helping to ease an already monumental burden on the manager is among the priorities of those who call the shots. Locke currently needs all the help he can get, not the rugged pulled from beneath him.
There were some Hearts fans relatively unperturbed at Brown being given his notice, while, remarkably, some were even happy at the prospect of him going, with the perception in some quarters being that he is a hindrance rather than a help to the manager. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Brown is an ever-present on the training ground with the first team. Locke can trust him with his players if he needs to be elsewhere, carrying out other tasks. Robbie Neilson is still learning his trade as a coach and, in any case, his main priority is taking care of the young players in his role as player development manager. Alan Combe, by his own admission, is a goalkeeping coach. His focus is Jamie MacDonald, Mark Ridgers and Jack Hamilton.
For Brown’s critics to suggest that the team wouldn’t suffer if he was removed is disrespectful to the work of every assistant manager. It is effectively saying that any Tom, Dick or Harry can go on a training field and prepare a team to be competitive in the Scottish Premiership.
It is also particularly disrespectful to Brown who can be ranked among the best coaches in Scottish football over the past 20 years. Just to recap, his methods on the training ground were of no obstacle to young players like Locke, Gary Naysmith, Paul Ritchie and David Weir flourishing in the game. He was one highly-respected half of a managerial partnership with Jim Jefferies which guided the most swashbuckling Hearts side of the modern era to a title tilt and Scottish Cup glory in 1998 before keeping Kilmarnock buoyant in the SPL, while providing a platform for the likes of Kris Boyd and Steven Naismith to emerge as two of the best Scottish forwards of the past decade.
It was only three years ago that the Brown and Jefferies partnership had Hearts again on the periphery of the title race before they ultimately settled for what remains their last third-place finish in the league.
Few who have worked under him have a bad word to say. As a member of the old school, he calls a spade a spade, whether a player is 18 or 28, but he is fair and well-liked, as evidenced by the fact some players were so disconsolate at his imminent departure that they petitioned with BDO to have him kept in place. Michael Stewart and Graham Stack are very much in the minority in terms of players who didn’t see eye to eye with Brown.
Indeed, suggestions that he wasn’t respected during his time as assistant to Colin Calderwood and Pat Fenlon at Hibs can be countered by the fact some wanted him to become manager after the former left. Ian Murray, a Hibs player of that time, considered asking him to become his assistant at Dumbarton, only for Brown to instead get the East Fife manager’s job.
Of course, the heart-ruling-the-head outburst which Brown infamously launched against Fifers fans during that stint in Methil last season didn’t portray him in a great light and is still used as a stick for the critics to beat him with.
However, any outspoken bluster or tirades at errant referees shouldn’t be allowed to override the fact that Brown remains a shrewd coach who shouldn’t be dismissed until such time as he is no longer considered an invaluable support to the present manager. That time is certainly not now.
Hearts still paying the penalty
One of the reasons Billy Brown has cut such a narky figure this season is that Hearts have conceded eight penalties in 23 league games this season.
Apart from Dundee United, who have conceded six, no other side in the Premiership has had more than three awarded against them. Gallingly for Hearts, there is an argument that all eight were, at the very least, debatable.
Straight away, the ones awarded for handball against Jamie Hamill, when the ball hit his face in Inverness, and Jordan McGhee, when it hit his back at Pittodrie, can be written off as bad calls. The same can be said of the first one in Saturday’s draw with St Johnstone, when any contact between Kevin McHattie and Nigel Hasselbaink was outside the box.
Hamill and McHattie were also entitled to feel hard done by at being penalised for handball at home to Celtic and away to Saints respectively. By the letter of the law, the other three away to Partick, at home to Aberdeen and away to Hibs were all probably penalties.
In short, there’s a strong case for suggesting that at least five of the eight shouldn’t have been given. This is not to suggest any bias on the part of the officials, however. It is merely human error coupled with the fact that teams struggling at the foot of the table usually find more of the play takes place in and around their box. Notably, last season’s bottom dogs, Dundee, also topped the penalties conceded charts with ten.
As much as Hearts will be nursing a sense of injustice, Saturday’s game is arguably the only one where incorrect penalty awards could be considered to have cost them a win. Equally, though, Saints could point to the harsh dismissal of Steven Anderson as the most crucial factor in them not going on to win the game. Some you get, some you don’t.
Penalties conceded in the Scottish Premiership this season:
6: Dundee United
3: St Mirren
3: Ross County
2: St Johnstone
1: Partick Thistle