Football fans often harbour a feeling of injustice when their beloved favourites find themselves on the receiving end of a dubious decision. But often there is a sense of pantomime about. We may scream about corruption but it’s all very performative. After all, logical thought would soon poke holes in any theory relating to a late penalty denial against Hamilton Accies being part of some wider conspiracy.
However, for every Hearts fan leaving Tynecastle in a haze of raw anger on this fateful midweek night in 2005, this injustice cut much deeper. Even once the dust had settled it was hard for them to come to any other conclusion than the one they had reached in the moment: they believed their team had been cheated.
It was a suspicion the club themselves harboured, which is why they enquired with the Scottish FA as to the legitimacy of the decision which denied them a well-earned point against a title-chasing Rangers side at a bouncing Tynecastle Park. But let’s rewind a little, shall we?
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Fourth in the table, six points behind rivals Hibs in their chase for their third successive best-of-the-rest season, Hearts went into the match in strong, if a little inconsistent, form. A seven-game unbeaten streak to start the year ended with a disastrous 3-2 League Cup semi-final defeat to Motherwell. This preceded a three-game run against Kilmarnock. After a 2-2 draw in the Scottish Cup, John Robertson’s side discovered their swaggering best for a pair of victories with three goals scored in each. However, this was soon followed by a listless 2-0 defeat at Motherwell.
A win over Livingston in the Scottish Cup reintroduced a bit of pep in their step and they went into this contest quietly confident they could upset Alex McLeish’s men. Robertson decided to alter his tactics for the occasion, dropping January addition Mark Burchill to the bench and going with a front three of loanee Lee Miller flanked with two of the season’s three Lithuanian imports: Saulius Mikoliunas and Deividas Cesnauskis.
The first 93 minutes of action would ultimately becoming nothing but a mere footnote in the story of this game, which is a shame because it was a sizzling encounter played at a frantic pace with two fully committed and, surprisingly, well-matched opponents. Hearts may have trailed Rangers by 27 points in the league table, but you wouldn’t have thought it watching the game play out. The front three worked to perfection with the direct running of the two wingers and Miller’s excellent hold-up play causing Rangers all sorts of problems.
The late drama may not have occurred had Hearts been able to convert any one of their chances while they were well on top in the first half. Cesnauskis missed a sitter while both Mikoliunas and Jamie McAllister were denied by super saves from Rangers keeper Ronald Waterreus. They were made to pay for such wastefulness when Nacho Novo put the pre-match favourites in front shortly after half-time.
With time ticking away, Robertson made a throw of the dice by bringing on Burchill for McAllister and going two up top. It got the desired result with the former Celtic striker in exactly the right spot to fire home from close range after Paul Hartley’s free-kick from 25 yards struck the inside of the post.
And that should’ve been that. But there was one final sting in the tail.
Deep into stoppage time, Rangers sent in a deep cross to the back post. Defender Sotirios Kyrgiakos contested with Miller for position under the flight of the ball. When it became apparent it was sailing over his head, Kyrgiakos awkwardly threw himself in the air, almost punching the ball with his hand, as it bounced off him and harmlessly away for a goal kick before he fell to the turf. The Greek international furiously protested for a penalty but referee Hugh Dallas was unmoved – then he spotted the assistant referee on the far side.
Andy Davis. A name that is forever burned into the memory of any Hearts supporter unfortunate enough to witness this incident. According to Robertson, the linesman adjudged Miller to have “clearly seen Lee Miller pull down Kyrgiakos with two hands on his shirt” – a version of events that was not reflected in the replays. Even the Rangers manager would describe the award as “soft”.
From there bedlam occurred. Even prior to the award of the spot-kick, Rangers striker Dado Prso was too aggressive in his reclaiming of the ball from Craig Gordon. The keeper hit the deck and Prso was sent off. Then, once Dallas pointed to the spot, Mikoliunas came sprinting over to Davis and bumped the official in the chest. This earned a straight red card and further punishment for continually telling Dallas to “f*** off”. Fernando Ricksen tucked away the penalty kick but by this point the stadium was on the point of igniting. Supporters were so beyond fury that one reportedly climbed on top of the away dugout in an attempt to unleash his anger on some unwitting Ibrox-minded bystander.
The aftermath rumbled on for several days. Hearts were pilloried in the media for their questioning of Davis’ objectivity. In a show of support, the SFA handed the much-maligned linesman duties at the Scottish Cup final involving Celtic and Dundee United before he retired that summer. Mikoliunas would return to the team but never did seem to recapture the momentum before his notorious chest-bump. Robertson wouldn’t last the season as Hearts slumped to fifth and Rangers would go on to win the title thanks to a famous double by Scott McDonald against Celtic at Fir Park.