WHAT started out as a petty, faintly comical, spat between two men who should know better escalated into something uglier at Rugby Park yesterday.
Paulo Sergio is no Luis Suarez, and Kenny Shiels no Patrice Evra, but the two managers who have been at loggerheads these last couple of days made quite a fist of emulating the big controversy in England.
Never mind the equaliser in time added on by Suso Santana that cancelled out Paul Heffernan’s goal just a few minutes earlier. Or even the red cards for Jamie Hamill and Dieter Van Tornhout in the second half. It was before and after this ill-tempered, indisciplined match – wonder why? – that most of the drama unfolded.
When Sergio declined Shiels’ invitation to shake hands prior to the kick-off, the Kilmarnock manager conspicuously allowed his hand to linger for the cameras. At full-time, another offer by Shiels – which Sergio later described as provocative – was again declined, after which things threatened to get out of hand, if you’ll pardon the pun.
As the two sets of players mingled on the pitch, Sergio shook hands with Dean Shiels, Kenny’s son. From a distance, it looked as though the Hearts manager pulled the player towards him and made a comment to which Shiels objected. Sergio later claimed that a remark by the player was to blame. In any event, the two had to be separated, which only left others to enter the fray. Michael Nelson, the Kilmarnock defender, had a go at Sergio, while Gary Locke, the Hearts first-team coach, also had to be restrained.
Neither Shiels nor his son spoke to the press afterwards, but Sergio explained his decision to snub the handshake. “I don’t want,” he said. “You have to understand that. Come on. After what he has spoken about me, not just this week. It is the fifth or sixth time he did that. This time it was so low that I don’t have words to describe it. So you have my reaction.
“I’m sad about that, but I think it was time to give him an answer because he is not doing it just with me. He is doing it with everybody. He has no ethics, no respect for anybody. I’m sad with that. I’m not happy. I’m not a guy who came to Scotland, a guy in a foreign country, to be involved with things like that. When he came the second time to shake, it is just to provoke me and get the reaction of the crowd.”
Jimmy Nicholl, Kilmarnock’s assistant manager, said that he was not surprised by Sergio’s snub. He said that Shiels was too honest for his own good at times. “You know what he’s like. The media boys love him. He comes out and says what he thinks. But if Kenny’s got principles, Paulo’s got principles. His principles are that he’s said too many things. It’s up to Paulo to decide. I can understand it.”
Sergio was less forthcoming about his altercation with Dean Shiels. “The kid gave his hand to me too, but he said a thing. So I take my hand off, but I’m not going to say. I don’t want punishment. I can understand the reaction of Dean. And I think he is clever enough to understand mine too. If somebody was speaking about his father what his father was speaking about me, [he would] understand the reaction.”
And all this because of Shiels’ claim that Sergio should have resigned in protest at the club’s decision to drop Marian Kello. Sergio ridiculed Shiels on Friday, comparing him to a clown and claiming that everybody in Scottish football, including the Kilmarnock players, was laughing at him.
The nonsense continued in pre-match radio interviews. Sergio said that he had been too soft on Shiels, who replied that he was guilty merely of being a “wind-up merchant”. Only the humourless and the “self-indulgent”, “the Victor Meldrews of this world”, would be offended by his comments, said the Killie manager.
The pity was that Shiels did not emerge from the dressing room in a red nose, lipstick and oversized shoes. Sergio would have had the opportunity to say: “I don’t believe it.” As it turned out, neither so much as spoke to each other, although when Van Tornhout was pitifully late with a challenge on Hamill in front of the dugouts, you half expected an international incident to break out. Hamill was booked for his protests.
There was precious little else to report in a dreadful first half, save for Momo Sissoko’s lame header that was fumbled on to the bar, but Van Tornhout was not to be denied in his attempts to ignite proceedings. Nine minutes into the second half, he was guilty of another bad tackle, again on Hamill, which persuaded Euan Norris to dismiss him for a second booking.
Suddenly, it looked as though the match was Hearts’ for the taking. Stephen Elliott headed well over, and Andy Webster’s left-foot shot met with a similar fate.
That, though, was not to account for Dean Shiels’ potential from a set-piece. With 11 minutes left, Nelson met his corner with a powerful header, which the goalkeeper could only parry on the line. From the chaotic scramble that ensued, Heffernan bundled the ball over the line.
Hearts’ disappointment was compounded a minute later when Hamill was given his second yellow, this time for a foul on Garry Hay. With no more players than their opponents, a point looked a forlorn hope for Hearts, but a minute into time added on, Suso rose at the back post to head in Elliott’s cross.