Robbie Neilson insists he is totally unfazed by the prospect of having to head to Hampden to defend himself over comments made in the aftermath of last month’s controversial 3-2 defeat by Hamilton Accies.
After the red card of Hearts defender Callum Paterson – since rescinded following an appeal – had a pivotal effect on the match, the head coach revealed that his side had prepared for the possibility of playing both with and against ten men as a result of studying statistics that suggested match referee Willie Collum was particularly partial to showing red cards in Hearts matches.
Neilson said last week that he had received an email asking him to clarify his comments, and the club duly responded with what they felt was enough evidence to prove that the head coach was merely stating facts and was not in breach of any rules. However, on Tuesday, he was surprised to be issued with a Notice of Complaint by compliance officer Tony McGlennan for “indicating bias or incompetence” against Collum.
Hearts, who are backing Neilson wholeheartedly, had no hesitation in appealing the charge. The head coach will now face a hearing at the national stadium on Thursday, October 1 to determine whether he will face any punishment.
Asked if he was disappointed to be heading to Hampden, a defiant Neilson said: “No, I’m looking forward to it. It should be good. I’ve been a couple of times and the tea is good, the sandwiches are good, so we will see what they have to say. I will stand by what I said. I don’t want to say too much about it now because it is an active case but I won’t be taking anything back because what I said is what I believe. Whether they want to interpret one way or the other is up to them. I said what I said and I stand by it and we will see where that takes us at the hearing at the start of October.”
Neilson felt Hearts had made a compelling enough case in response to the initial email to have the matter dropped. “I got the email through and we put our case back to them and Tony has made his decision [to charge him],” said the head coach. “Tony is a decent guy and he thinks he can carry it through but we don’t so we will see where that takes us.”
Neilson confirmed that he hasn’t had any contact with Collum since the controversial events of three weeks ago. “No, I haven’t spoken to Willie,” he said.
The head coach was keen to point out that he has no axe to grind with Scottish football’s referees in general. “I think there are loads of really good referees, I really do,” said Neilson. “Bobby [Madden], taking the Aberdeen game [tomorrow], is one of the best we have got. Bobby is a really good referee and I think there are a lot of really good referees. I have no issues with the referees. I think we’ve got a good batch, just some maybe need a bit of help!”
Meanwhile, Neilson insists there is no sense of despondency at Tynecastle despite Hearts having to deal with back-to-back defeats for the first time in 17 months. Losses to Inverness and Hamilton in their last two games stemmed a five-game winning streak at the start of the Premiership campaign, but the head coach is intent on viewing the bigger picture ahead of tomorrow’s visit from the table-topping Dons.
“We are a Championship team that got promoted in the summer,” he said. “We have had five wins out of seven and that’s a decent start for a team that’s just come up. Yeah we want to be near the top of the league but a year and a half/two years ago we were sitting here and the club was nearly out of business so we have to be realistic and progress slowly. We aren’t going to jump straight from being in the Championship to being top of the league.
“It takes time and it takes players time to get used to being at a big club again and being at a club that’s trying to get itself to the top of the league. We are probably, at the moment, ahead of where we should be.
“The Championship was a two-year plan to get out but we made it back in a year. The plan wasn’t that after a year and a half we would be sitting top of the Premiership. So we still have a lot of hard work to do.”