Contentious decisions are par for the course when Hearts meet Celtic. Two of them influenced this Scottish Cup fourth-round tie, resulting in Celtic progressing and leaving Hearts with a real sense of injustice.
The straight red card issued to Morgaro Gomis after eight minutes left the home team seriously disadvantaged. Head coach Robbie Neilson claimed referee Willie Collum got that decision wrong. However, he was angered more by an ill-deserved penalty award to Celtic shortly after half-time, from which John Guidetti scored the second to put the game beyond Hearts. Brad McKay slid in to challenge Guidetti but the Swede cut the ball inside his opponent and, without contact, fell to ground in a show of blatant simulation. Collum pointed to the spot, leaving McKay incensed, and Guidetti dispatched the ball home from 12 yards.
Virgil van Dijk had expertly converted the first goal in the first half and he then headed the third before Anthony Stokes drove the fourth and final nail in Hearts’ coffin. Their Scottish Cup campaign is over at the first hurdle but the sense of grievance will linger for some time around Tynecastle.
Gomis, captaining the home team in Danny Wilson’s absence, had both feet off the ground in the reckless tackle on Scott Brown which prompted his red card. Going by the laws of the game, Collum was correct in dismissing him for serious foul play. It was a needless tackle from an experienced player, perhaps sparked by two unpunished fouls by Brown seconds beforehand.
Neilson’s frustration stemmed from memories of similar challenges by Rangers players Kenny Miller and Kris Boyd the previous weekend, which resulted only in yellow cards. In that respect, he had a point.
Nonetheless, there was no mistaking the ruthlessness of Celtic’s play. They came to Tynecastle pumped up and ready for business in an intimidating environment. Their playing tempo was high, likewise their aggression levels, as they clinically dispatched Hearts from a national cup competition for the second time this season.
Ronny Deila’s team are gaining momentum after a stuttering start to the season. They will still be involved in four tournaments post-Christmas, whilst Hearts now concentrate on aiming for automatic promotion from the Scottish Championship. The Edinburgh club hoped for a Glasgow double after beating Rangers in the league but from the eighth minute it was clear that would not be possible. The red card ended this game as a contest before it had properly begun.
“I thought the players worked hard and we got some decisions that I’m very disappointed in,” complained Neilson. “I think everyone knows what the outcome of them should’ve been. The one man who makes the decisions didn’t see it like everyone else.
“We will use it as motivation to improve. We aren’t going to let somebody’s performance put a blight on the start of the season for us. The league is the main focus. We’re out of the cup, not for the want of trying, but some decisions went against us at key times.
“I’ve watched both incidents [red card and penalty] and I’m disappointed in the outcome of both of them. I’m sure the referee will look at them again and have his own views but it’s done now. It’s a difficult day for us all but it happens.
“When we went down to ten men, I thought we still performed well. We lost a goal from the second phase at a corner. Coming in at half-time 1-0 down, we’re still in the game and still got a chance. As soon as we get the second decision against us, the game is finished. It becomes a case of trying to keep our shape and see the game out.”
Asked how he saw the red card, Neilson responded: “We have a game last week where two players get booked for tackles far worse than Morgaro’s. He goes in and wins the ball and the referee decides it’s a sending off. We can’t argue against it because they’ve always got things they can say. They’ll say it’s reckless and it’s at pace, but for me the penalty is the real changer in the game.
“I’m more annoyed at the penalty but I’m also annoyed that you can’t speak to them [officials]. You can’t speak to anybody. If somebody makes a mistake, I would rather they just came and said, ‘I’ve done it’. Then that’s it, we move on. I tried to speak to the referee but he said wouldn’t speak.”
Surprisingly for a hotly-contested match, there were only three bookings. Despite Brown fouling his way through the 90 minutes and receiving warnings from Collum, he was not one of them. His team dominated the match and pinned Hearts in their own half for long spells as they played keep ball. Their first and fourth goals were both finishes of the highest quality.
“It was a calmer afternoon than I expected,” said Deila. “I knew it would be tough but the sending off made the game different. We kept the tempo up, had good reaction, good pressing and in the end we got the four goals and a victory that was comfortable.”
So comfortable that Van Dijk could afford to miss a sitter from two yards before the interval and still leave Edinburgh with a double. “He should have scored three. It was easier to score a goal than miss it but I can’t expect more than two goals,” said Deila, who remained diplomatic on the red card and penalty incidents.
“I haven’t seen the tackle so I don’t know. I have not seen the penalty either. I haven’t spoken to John but from my position it looked like a penalty. I think we had full control of the game and I think the red card was more important than the penalty.
“We spoke about pressure before the game. The pitch here is not so big so we had to be very together and very aggressive. We did that and Hearts almost didn’t have the ball, especially after they went down to ten men. The discipline and the team spirit was very good.”
Stokes offered a defence of Guidetti, although he may be rethinking his words after seeing television replays of the Swede’s dive. “From where I was it actually looked like a penalty but people are saying it looked soft,” said Stokes.
“John is very sharp. I’d have to see it again but I don’t think he’s the type of boy to go down. Being a striker myself, if I’m in the box and I feel any sort of contact then I’m going to go down. I know if it happens in our box then the other striker will do it. Nine times out of ten, you get the decision. Can you blame a striker in this day and age for going down?”
That is a matter for debate. What cannot be argued is that Celtic take their place in today’s Scottish Cup fifth-round draw after demolishing Hearts. Refereeing decisions will cloud the issue for some and arguments are sure to rage on. It is ever so when these two teams collide on a football pitch.