Robbie Neilson insists Hearts have a sound case for contesting a suspension handed to Jamie Walker because there is no evidence that he was guilty of “simulation” during the controversial penalty incident in Sunday’s Premiership defeat by Celtic.
The attacker was yesterday issued with a notice of complaint by Scottish FA compliance officer Tony McGlennan which alleged that he “pretended to be fouled” by Kieran Tierney and “did thereafter dive in the penalty box”, leading to a penalty being “incorrectly” awarded to Hearts.
A two-match ban was offered to Walker which would have ruled him out of tonight’s Betfred Cup tie at St Johnstone and Saturday’s Premiership match away to Aberdeen. However, Hearts have chosen not to accept the charge, meaning Walker is free to play in Perth before being subject to a hearing tomorrow.
The Tynecastle club’s defence will centre around their belief that there is no visible evidence to disprove Walker’s claim that he “felt contact” from Tierney in the 35th-minute flashpoint that led to referee John Beaton awarding a penalty and Walker duly equalising from the spot.
“I have watched the incident back several times,” said Neilson. “Jamie told us he felt contact. He got himself out the way of a leg that is coming through. From our perspective, we believe that any contact in the box is a penalty. I believe from the footage which we have seen there is slight contact. You look at the camera from every angle and there is no indication there was no contact – other than people saying there is no contact.”
Neilson claims that, even when slowed down to super slow-motion, there is no point in the footage of the collision where clear space can be seen between the legs of Tierney and Walker. “When you look at it, is there any point where there is light between the players?” he said. “Every time you watch the picture there is a crossing at high speed. That is all it takes for a player running at speed for that to happen. People are saying they didn’t see much or anything. What you have to look at is that people can’t just say ‘I didn’t really see much there’ and then ban someone. You have to say it was either this or that – there is no in-between. We are watching a slow-motion video and we are saying there might or there might not have been contact. Do we then jump to a conclusion because somebody said so after the game or someone who forms an opinion on it and says he did this or he did that?
“You have to have firm evidence. My firm evidence is that I asked the player if there was contact. He said ‘yes, there was contact’ and all the cameras we look at can’t prove there wasn’t contact. That should be it.”
Neilson cited the case of former Celtic striker John Guidetti, who escaped action from the same compliance officer during a similar incident in a Scottish Cup tie against Hearts in December 2014. The Swede fell theatrically to the ground and was awarded a penalty even though there was clearly no semblance of contact from Brad McKay. No sanction was imposed because Celtic claimed he slipped and didn’t claim for the penalty. “We looked at the same incident two years ago, with Guidetti,” said Neilson. “He said he slipped and didn’t get banned. Well, there is contact on Walker, he goes down, it’s a penalty kick. For me, if you go for a tackle in the box and miss the ball and there is any contact on the player then the player’s momentum is broken and it’s a penalty. I’m sure if it was a Celtic player and there is contact in the box and he goes down then that’s it, penalty.”