PAULO SERGIO took full responsibility for Hearts’ 4-0 defeat by Celtic at Tynecastle last night in an effort to protect his players after a disappointing result.
The Portuguese manager was angry after Stephen Elliott’s second-minute header crossed the Celtic goal line, with neither referee Willie Collum or his assistant Andy Tait awarding a goal. Thereafter, strikes from Scott Brown, Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper secured a 16th consecutive domestic win for Celtic.
Sergio admitted Hearts would still have found it difficult to stop the Glasgow club due to the scintillating nature of their play. But he insisted he should shoulder the blame for the loss and refused to criticise anyone in his dressing room.
“We could have scored the early goal and lost 6-1,” said Sergio. “I can’t say we would win if the goal was allowed but you have to agree the game is different and harder for Celtic if they are behind. My goalie made only one save but they scored four, that is how a big team plays. I have to say, for everybody, this defeat is my responsibility.”
The defeat leaves Hearts still six points behind third-place Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League but Sergio is hopeful of having David Templeton available for Saturday’s league trip to Kilmarnock. Midfielder Ian Black is available again after missing last night’s match through suspension.
Hearts could find themselves playing twice inside 48 hours next week if the Scottish Football Association decides to switch their Scottish Cup replay with St Johnstone to Thursday, February 16.
The match is currently scheduled for Tuesday, February 14, but the SFA is hopeful of moving it to Thursday to allow Sky to broadcast live from McDiarmid Park.
They must first obtain permission from UEFA because of Europa League ties taking place that night. If they get the go-ahead Hearts will face St Johnstone in the replay next Thursday before travelling to Fir Park on league business on the Saturday. It is understood there is no prospect of the Motherwell match being moved to the Sunday.
Meanwhile, Hearts’ majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov has spoken to Russian media about the club’s outstanding tax bill. Officials at Tynecastle are confident of settling the bill with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs by next week, and Romanov told the news agency RIA Novosti: “I don’t know what’s going on at Hearts, I’m not in Scotland at the moment. All monies due to the footballers have been paid. It’s probably just that the tax service hasn’t been paid.”