Juanma’s petulance a constant theme for Hearts

Steven MacLean's penalty miss allowed Hearts to claim a point
Steven MacLean's penalty miss allowed Hearts to claim a point
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FAILING to understand English was probably the one positive from Juanma Delgado’s weekend.

A red card for headbutting David Wotherspoon after 27 minutes at McDiarmid Park saw team-mates react furiously at Hearts’ Spanish striker. Thankfully for him, he couldn’t comprehend much of what was being bawled at him.

Those who watch Hearts regularly knew it was coming. Juanma’s petulance and personal indiscipline has been a constant theme this season. Nine yellow cards, four for dissent alone, in 20 appearances indicates a player constantly falling foul of referees. He marked his 21st game in Scotland with his first dismissal, prompting even his own colleagues to turn on him.

He knocked St Johnstone’s David Wotherspoon to the ground before the midfielder kicked out in anger at Juanma. There was no excusing the forward’s reaction as he turned round to confront Wotherspoon and appeared to headbutt the former Hibs player. The motion was enough to force referee Kevin Clancy to make a decision. Wotherspoon may find himself punished retrospectively by the SFA compliance officer but Juanma received an instant red card.

Within seconds, Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson, St Johnstone’s Liam Craig and manager Tommy Wright all became embroiled in arguments. At one point it seemed Clancy might lose control altogether. The most noteworthy sight was Callum Paterson screaming at Juanma and physically shoving him off the field, whilst pointing to his temple to indicate the striker had lost the plot.

Others were also visibly upset and telling the player to get up the tunnel. He might not have understood their messages exactly but he would at least have gathered they weren’t offering festive greetings. The 25-year-old arrived in June from the Greek club Kalloni and still doesn’t speak English. That was a blessing in disguise in Perth.

Hearts’ resilience, the reactions of goalkeeper Neil Alexander, plus a missed penalty by St Johnstone’s Steven MacLean 12 minutes from time combined to minimise the damage. Leaving with a point after playing more than an hour with ten men was indeed a job well done. That wasn’t likely to excuse Juanma, though. Neilson spoke to him after the game and more 
detailed talks took place yesterday at Riccarton.

“He said very little because he doesn’t speak English,” admitted Neilson after the match. He added that Hearts players were unhappy Wotherspoon went unpunished for kicking out at Juanma. “I thought it was a harsh one and a couple of our players were a bit disappointed with that,” he said. “Before that I thought we were comfortable and we would go on to win the game, but down to ten men it becomes difficult. If we had got three points it would have been daylight robbery but I’m pleased to stay in third place with a game in hand.”

Wotherspoon admitted he did kick out at Juanma, saying: “I didn’t mean to kick him after I got knocked down, it just happened. If the compliance officer looks at it, then he looks at it.”

Hearts survived a second-half onslaught in which Alexander saved from Murray Davidson twice and Michael O’Halloran. Igor Rossi blocked an O’Halloran header on the goal line before MacLean wasted a certain match-winning opportunity. Visiting substitute Miguel Pallardo fouled St Johnstone replacement Chris Kane – Hearts’ Spaniards seemed to want to outdo one another – but MacLean sent the resultant penalty high into the stand.

“We can say that it was a good point because we were lucky not to lose a goal,” said Hearts defender Blazej Augustyn. “It’s always hard with ten men, you have to get back with the whole team and defend. We tried to play but the pitch was so hard we couldn’t play sometimes because the ball was jumping. We are happy to get one point.

“We train often with ten men so it paid off. We do it often. We also do nine versus nine. Sometimes we play well and lose, sometimes we play bad and win. On Saturday, we played with ten men and draw. It was lucky but we drew. We will try to play football, that’s it.”

Wright could only bemoan St Johnstone’s inability to find the net and secure a win which would have seen them usurp Hearts into third place in the Ladbrokes Premiership. “Maybe Juanma was a bit pumped up because he had a niggle at Steven Anderson early on. I don’t think he can have any complaints. The discipline of my players was excellent. I am disappointed for the players because they played well. It was a good chance to go third.

“The penalty was the best chance of winning the game but it went flying over the bar. That’s two he [MacLean] has missed now. He is disappointed but at least he was brave enough to take it. The fact we didn’t win was down to some poor finishing, great defending and some inspired goalkeeping from Neil Alexander.”

More of the same will be required next weekend if Hearts are to prevail when Celtic visit Tynecastle. Juanma will be suspended and must sit in the stand and watch someone, possibly Gavin Reilly, take his place. His physical presence will be missed but his petulance certainly won’t.

“We have 24 or 25 players so somebody will take his place. Like Gavin on Saturday, he works hard and we hope he will get his place,” said Augustyn.

“It’s a hard period to play in just now. I said a few weeks ago we could challenge Celtic, but then we draw and lose.”