Willie Collum couldn’t be less popular in Gorgie if he refereed Hearts’ next match in full Hibs kit.
There isn’t much love for this particular referee around the country. At Tynecastle, he’s chief villain yet again after events at New Douglas Park on Saturday.
Hearts lost their 100 per cent record to Hamilton in a game which spun out of Collum’s control long before the final whistle. Callum Paterson’s red card on 76 minutes swung the game in Accies’ favour as Hearts led 2-1 after being 1-0 down at the interval. The hosts seized the initiative with the extra man. Ali Crawford scored a beauty, then Jesus Garcia Tena struck to secure a 3-2 victory and depose Hearts from the top of the Premiership.
Robbie Neilson, the visiting head coach, contested that Paterson was unfairly dismissed. He felt the full-back won the ball in a full-blooded challenge on Hamilton’s Darian MacKinnon. Paterson overran the ball coming out of defence and stretched into the tackle at speed. From the main stand press box, it looked a reckless challenge and a likely red card, but Neilson is adamant that wasn’t the case. Television relays proved the ball was played first although the speed Paterson was travelling at made it look dangerous.
It was the moment that changed the game. Paterson lay grounded as all hell broke loose around him and Collum couldn’t maintain order. He wasn’t helped by players from either side remonstrating with, pushing and shoving one another. Four yellow cards were brandished, including one to unused substitute Kevin McHattie for dissent. Paterson, after rising to his feet, saw red. He became the ninth Tynecastle player ordered off by Collum in his 36 games refereeing Hearts. The others are Christian Nade, Eduardas Kurskis, Larry Kingston, Ryan Stevenson, Jamie Hamill, Osman Sow, Jamie Walker and Morgaro Gomis.
This is the source of much of Hearts’ contention. Neilson had his players training on how to play with ten men before this match because he believed Collum would send someone off from one team or the other. Paterson gave him the opportunity with a tackle he didn’t really need to make.
“I didn’t think it was a sending off. I’ve seen it again,” said Neilson. “I thought Callum came in from the side, hooked his foot round and the boy [MacKinnon] came over the top of him. For me, it’s not a red card, but the referee makes the decision. It’s a total game-changer.
“I felt we were quite comfortable 2-1 and were looking to see the game out. Then the referee makes a decision that totally changes the flow of the game. We end up trying to hang on for a draw and don’t make it. I think the referee has reacted to the others’ reactions after the incident. I think he felt he had to send somebody off to get a bit of order in.”
A more reckless tackle by Hamilton’s Antons Kurakins on Jamie Walker in the first half earned the full-back only a yellow card. “I tried to speak to the referee about the fact I think that one on Walker is worse because the boy comes in high over the ball,” said Neilson. “I tried to speak to him but he doesn’t listen. I could say a lot of things about him. I don’t want to say too much because I’ll end up in the stand. I think a lot of managers have issues with him. I spoke to him and his advisor was there as well.
“Every referee we get, I look at the stats and how they referee the game. I look at how many sending offs we’ve had against us. It’s a lot, believe me – a lot of sending offs in key games with this referee. Other referees have high sending off rates as well.
“This game, with the officials we were getting, I knew there was a high probability there was going to be a sending off in the game. It’s happened again. We try to train with ten men but we didn’t get our gameplan going because of the way it happened and who came off. It made it difficult.”
Neilson planned to speak to John Fleming, the SFA’s referee development officer, over the weekend. “I like John and I speak to him regularly when we have certain officials. I’m sure he was desperate to speak to me after Saturday. It’s done now. We take it on the chin. Next time we get the referee we had on Saturday we’ll need to do the same training again and hope we can keep to our gameplan when we go down to ten men.
“We knew there was a high chance we’d get somebody sent off and we gave him the opportunity to do it by going into a tackle like that when we probably shouldn’t have. If you look at it again, you’ll see it’s not a sending off. The one on Walker is a borderline sending off.”
It should be pointed out that Hamilton deserved their three points. They were the better team for long periods and could have been 3-0 ahead by half-time. Gramoz Kurtaj and MacKinnon both missed glaring chances to score before Kurtaj prodded the opening goal past Neil Alexander on 45 minutes. Hearts defended poorly on all three occasions and could easily have been dead and buried.
They recovered commendably in the second half and looked ready to exercise a vice-like grip once 2-1 ahead. King’s composed finish brought them level, and Paterson lashed Juanma’s cross beyond goalkeeper Michael McGovern to an almighty roar from the 2710 travelling supporters. His impulsiveness five minutes later changed the game.
Crawford’s equaliser was a raking 20-yarder high into the top corner of the net on 84 minutes. Three minutes later, a corner landed at Garcia Tena’s feet. His initial shot was blocked by Juwon Oshaniwa but the Spaniard reacted first to drive home the rebound. Craword admitted scoring in a win over Hearts was especially satisfying for him after he was released by the Edinburgh club aged 15.
“It means so much more to me because Hearts let me go when I was younger. It’s good to get one over on them,” he said. “As soon as the ball left my foot, I thought it was going in. It went right in the top corner and it’s a great feeling.
“That was the first time I’d played against Hearts professionally since they let me go. It gave me an added boost. They let me go when I was 15 because I was too small – hence my celebration when I went down on my knees and showed them how much it meant to me.
“John Murray, head of youth at the time, it was his decision to release me. Unlucky to them. It was hard to take at the time. I had to go and rebuild my career but Hamilton gave me a great opportunity.
“We should’ve been three up by half-time. Gramoz tripped over the ball then Daz blazed one over the bar. We showed great character at 2-1 down to win 3-2. Everybody had us going down this year but we’re just proving them all wrong, like we did last season.”
Hearts now have two weeks to muster a reaction before they face Inverness. Neilson revealed that his squad is motivated by a sense of injustice at losing their 100 per cent record.
“It’s difficult for the players to take.
“We’re sitting up the top of the league, we’re working hard and then the referee makes a decision like that and we end up losing. We have to use it as motivation.
“The positive is the reaction in our dressing-room afterwards. The boys are hungry now. This has spurred us on. We know what we need to do. We know we need overcome things like this and work double hard in training. Sometimes you need people to kick you in the teeth for you to come back and fight again.”