Craig Levein is hopeful that any punishment imposed on Hearts for fielding an ineligible player against Cove Rangers won’t leave them facing elimination from the Betfred Cup.
The Tynecastle side are set to find out their fate at a hearing on Monday after it emerged on Thursday morning that Andy Irving, who came on as a substitute in the second half of the 2-1 victory at the Balmoral Stadium the previous evening, wasn’t clear to play.
The teenage midfielder signed a contract extension with Hearts in January, but the club had failed to register it with the SFA due to an administrative error, meaning Irving was effectively ineligible to play upon the expiry of his original deal last month.
Hearts owner Ann Budge immediately issued a statement admitting the club were “embarrassed” by the error, which could have a damaging effect on their hopes of progressing in the Betfred Cup.
Instant expulsion from the tournament would be the most severe sanction Hearts could suffer, although that appears unlikely given that the offence occurred in a group match and not in a straight knockout tie. A likelier outcome would be the docking of the three points from Wednesday’s match or a fine.
“It’s a bizarre situation, it was back in January that we signed Andy on a new deal and we’re normally right on the ball with these kind of things,” said manager Levein. “We found out Thursday morning that something was wrong and it’s slightly embarrassing, as Ann said.”
Levein was wary of discussing his club’s potential punishment in any great detail ahead of Monday’s hearing, although he did acknowledge that, with a possible points deduction on the cards, there would be no margin for error in his team’s remaining three Group C matches, starting with today’s meeting with Raith Rovers at New Bayview. “I have no idea what the sanctions are because I think this is an unusual situation,” he said. “There used to be a mini-group for the League Cup away back in the mid-80s and I don’t know if there is anything that ever happened at that point that sets a precedent.
“We were winning 2-0 when Andy came on. I have to be careful with what I say as there is hearing on Monday although naturally I would hope that any sanction would not be damaging for out prospects in this competition. I don’t want to pre-empt anything that happens at the hearing. Whatever happens, we need to be doubly focussed on the remaining matches against Raith, Cowdenbeath and Inverness.”