IT was probably best Paulo Sergio didn’t face the media on Saturday evening. He may have burst a blood vessel conveying his anger. At the very least, he would have further incurred the wrath of the Scottish Football Association if asked about the performance of referee Alan Muir.
Hearts’ media blackout worked to their manager’s advantage. Sergio was seething at Muir’s performance in the 1-0 defeat by Kilmarnock, which was decided by Dean Shiels’ 55th-minute penalty. He is already facing one charge from the SFA’s Compliance Officer for comments on Iain Brines and another is now on the way. Sergio was sent to the stand, Ian Black dismissed, and some decisions left open to question during a tempestuous affair.
Sergio exploded in a fit of rage after 76 minutes, believing a succession of calls had gone against his team unfairly. The assistant referee copped it, the fourth official got both barrels, and the referee too. Although Muir couldn’t hear due to cacophony of jeers emanating from all four Tynecastle stands.
On the advice of Paul Robertson, the fourth official, Muir dispatched Sergio from his technical area for continually protesting about decisions. He departed in a fit of fury, face purple, arms waving and gesturing. Hearts believe the SFA, the media and all their grannies are conspiring against them right now, and this only served to fuel such theories.
First they were angered by Black’s dismissal after only 16 minutes. The diminutive midfielder slid in with both feet when tackling Shiels and, by the letter of the law, had to walk despite it being his first foul. Muir could have been lenient and issued a yellow card but showed no hesitation in producing a straight red, much to Black’s disbelief.
Next was a rejected penalty claim when Kilmarnock’s Alex Pursehouse appeared to handle whilst clearing Jamie Hamill’s shot from distance. That might have been a slightly ambitious appeal given the pace with which Hamill drove the ball at Pursehouse. The defender tried to head clear but the ball careered off his arm. Muir waved play on but the second half continued in the same exasperating fashion for Hearts.
Kilmarnock’s goal, ten minutes after the interval, was shrouded in controversy and Muir was bang in the centre of it. Hearts appealed for offside as Paul Heffernan sprinted on to Gary Harkins’ through pass, but television replays confirmed the striker was played onside by Hamill. Marius Zaliukas then pulled him down, needlessly, inside the box, and Muir hesitated before awarding a penalty. Having pointed to the spot, the referee was surely obliged to reduce Hearts to nine men because Zaliukas had denied Heffernan a goalscoring opportunity. However, the Lithuanian received only a yellow card.
Shiels confidently placed the penalty beyond Marian Kello, but Sergio’s fate was far from sealed. Compounding his frustration were decisions like the clear corner Hearts deserved when Kilmarnock’s Mohamadou Sissoko headed a cross behind. Yet Muir awarded a goal kick. Sergio berated the officials and was eventually ordered to the stand 14 minutes from full-time. Before leaving his technical area, he remonstrated with Muir and aimed an expletive at the referee in an incident which may attract the SFA’s attention and lead to more trouble for the Portuguese.
Despite events going against them, Hearts created more than enough chances to win this encounter. Kilmarnock were dogged and resolute but hardly inspiring. Three headers from Andy Webster could easily have found the net, visiting goalkeeper Annsi Jaakkola saved impressively from Ryan Stevenson and Rudi Skacel, and substitute Gordon Smith just failed to connect with a loose ball minutes from the end. In short, it was just one of those days.
Although their wages were close on a fortnight late, Hearts didn’t show any hint of lethargy for the cause. Quite the opposite. They dominated much of the match and produced a competitive edge which, on another day, would have secured three points. Kilmarnock, though, were rightly delighted with their first away win of the campaign. In fact, it was their first victory outwith Ayrshire since they last visited Tynecastle in March and left 2-0 to the good.
“We got a good result and I’m pleased for supporters who made the journey, and for the club and the boys,” said Kenny Shiels, the visiting manager.
“The Ian Black incident, I didn’t see if it was a bad challenge or not. Black is a fantastic footballer and he’s got to take that [aggression] out of his game if he wants to progress. Let’s just say Hearts are the most aggressive team in the league. We had to stand up to it and we were prepared for a battle.
“The referee’s remit is, when there is persistent fouling and aggression, to protect the football team. Since that remit came in, Spain have been champions of Europe and the world. On Saturday we got an example of a football team coming out on top. I felt justice was done, we got our first bit of luck this season because we underperformed and got a result.
“We’ve had six draws this season and should have won at least five of them. We got our rub, things fell into place.”
After insisting the Pursehouse incident was not worthy of a penalty, Shiels stressed Muir had got the Kilmarnock penalty correct. “From where I was it was a penalty,” he continued. “If not the player [Heffernan] will be fined for diving. If it was a penalty, which the referee gave, I feel it has to be a red card. A lot of players were lucky to stay on the pitch in the Hearts team.
“I don’t know what the referee’s view of it was. I’d need to look at it again. If it was a penalty, then the ref has had a fantastic game. He’s given the penalty and sent off their player in the first half. He could have sent off others but we showed courage not getting involved.
“Hearts were claiming for everything, it was a joke. I wasn’t happy about Webster’s challenge on the goalkeeper in the second half. The directive for our players was not to get involved in any aggression. We were here to play football and we were expecting that type of game.
“I’m not being critical of Hearts, you can take it as a compliment or a criticism. Aggression is good in football but uncontrolled aggression maybe isn’t as good. You can categorise it whichever way you see it. The bad temper was only coming from one side.”
Heffernan gave his view of the penalty and insisted he was impeded by Zaliukas. “I found myself clear on goal, ready to shoot and felt a nudge in the back. The referee didn’t give it straight away but it was a penalty. The referee had some big decisions to make but from where I was he got most of them right. He’s under a lot of pressure because Tynecastle is an intimidating place to come, but he handled himself well.
“He delayed awarding our penalty because he said he didn’t think it was a penalty. He had a chat to the assistant and they both agreed I was going away from goal so it wasn’t a clear goalscoring opportunity. That’s why it was a yellow card for their player.
“There were some big tackles going in from both teams. Their lad got sent off for a late lunge, maybe they are frustrated by what’s happened recently. We have three clean sheets in a week so we’re happy. People say we like to get the ball down and play pretty stuff but we rolled our sleeves up and ground out a 1-0 win against a very tough side.”