Robbie Neilson insisted departing Hearts striker Abiola Dauda shouldn’t have been sent off in yesterday’s feisty 2-2 draw with St Johnstone.
The Nigerian forward, who will return to parent club Vitesse Arnhem after a three-and-a-half-month loan stint, was shown a straight red card just before the hour mark after a clumsy tackle on Liam Craig left the Saints players incensed.
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright branded it “an absolutely horrible challenge”. “They can have no complaints about it,” he said. “The reaction of our players to his challenge told its own story. It was a disgraceful challenge and it’s something that should not be in the game.”
However, Neilson was of an opposing view and felt the reaction of the Saints players prompted referee Greg Aitken to flash a red card in his player’s direction.
“I’m disappointed in it, I think the reaction of the players was what made it a sending off,” said Hearts’ head coach. “I’ve watched it [on the video] and he actually stands on the back of his foot. It’s not intentional and it’s the ruckus after that makes the referee react. It’s Abi’s last game, he’s going back. It’s not the way he wanted to go, but it’s no fault of his own. He was trying to track back and stands on the boy’s foot and it’s the reaction that got him sent off. He’s done well for us. He took a little time to settle but his quality is there.”
Neilson was also irked by the decision to award Saints an eighth-minute penalty after John Souttar was deemed to have fouled Graham Cummins. Craig scored the resulting spot-kick before Cummins doubled their lead four minutes later. However, Hearts fought back to equalise through Arnaud Djoum and a Joe Shaughnessy own goal.
“Again, disappointed with the penalty, I don’t think it was,” said Neilson. “There’s not a lot you can do. If I say too much I’ll have to come back from my holiday to be at Hampden. I don’t fancy that. I was a wee bit disappointed with certain things but it’s happened now.”
Neilson was encouraged by the display of 17-year-old winger Lewis Moore, who played for 62 minutes on his competitive debut. “I was delighted with him,” he said. “I thought he did well, especially in the first half. He’s a player that’s still quite a bit away from the first team but I thought it was a chance to get him in.”