Deadline Day Drudgery; Callum’s Card Appeal
Morning all! Despite Gary Locke’s best efforts on transfer deadline day to prise me away from Maroon Tinted Spectacles to begin a three-year stint as a blogger for Kilmarnock, contract talks broke down when the Ayrshire club failed to “say aye” to my Killie Pie demands and I am staying put. In all seriousness though, Locke’s swift signing of Kevin McHattie on Tuesday had all the makings of a dog eagerly sniffing round the dinner table for scraps off its owner’s plate.
As news of McHattie’s release surfaced, Killie fans feared it, everyone else joked about it, but even by Locke’s limited standards, the notion of recruiting a fifth member of his relegated Hearts side seemed a little too ridiculous. Yet not too ridiculous for our Lockie, who has officially become a parody of himself.
From a Hearts point of view, Tuesday’s transfer deadline day was a relatively successful one. There may not have been any late new arrivals, but all of our main assets are still with us and space has been freed up for potentially higher-quality, unattached players to join in the coming weeks should Robbie Neilson identify the right type of player.
The departures of McHattie and Gary Oliver certainly came as a bit of a surprise on the day, particularly when most of the talk beforehand had been about the imminent departures of Kenny Anderson and Scott Gallacher, both of whom remain Hearts players for the time-being.
However, having said that he would never stand in a player’s way should he wish to seek more regular playing time elsewhere, you can understand why Neilson has allowed McHattie and Oliver to leave. Both are unlikely to feature frequently in this current Hearts first team and given their respective ages (22 and 20) they are at similar points in their career where regular football is important. The career moves they have made, however, could not be more contrasting.
In Oliver’s case, Hearts’ loss could very turn out to be Queen of the South’s gain. In James Fowler, Oliver will have a manager who has no qualms about fielding younger players and will surely give him the extended run of competitive games he never quite got with Hearts. At only 20 years old, there is still plenty room for improvement in Oliver’s game, but if his pre-season form for the past two seasons is anything to go by, there is a natural goal-scoring instinct there which Fowler and his coaches will develop further. Of all the players we have let go this summer, Gary Oliver is the only one I feel we could be looking at in five years time with a slight hint of regret.
Unlike Oliver (who I believe has joined a club that will develop him into a better player) I fear the exact opposite for McHattie at Kilmarnock. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not a McHattie boo-boy in the slightest, but there are definite flaws in McHattie’s game which were compounded by an injury-induced dip in confidence.
Leaving Hearts was a golden opportunity for McHattie to join a club with a manager who could revitalize his development and help him realise the potential he has shown in glimpses up until now. Unfortunately, the pressure of finding a new club as quickly as possible probably limited McHattie’s scope for weighing up his options, but there is a harsh reality about how it has panned out for him: if his development was stalling under Neilson, the chances of it going anywhere under Gary Locke are slim.
In the only major non-transfer news of the week, there was the issue of Callum Paterson’s red card appeal on Thursday. Like many others, I originally planned to vent my frustration in the immediate aftermath of the latest Willie Collum debacle, but I decided to hold off until the result of the appeal before giving my two cents. In the end, justice prevailed and Paterson will avoid a ban, however this will be scant recompense in the wake of Hearts’ first defeat of the season.
Disappointing and unfortunate as the result was, however, the reaction from some quarters (including Robbie Neilson himself) was a little overblown. While Paterson’s dismissal definitely changed the dynamic of the game going into the final minutes, it was not the sole contributory factor in Hearts’ defeat. The capitulation of a defence that has looked pretty solid in recent weeks, for example, is not the fault of the referee.
Although Neilson had every right to feel aggrieved with the way the game panned out (especially now that the red card has been overturned) it was a little disappointing to see him break his usually cool and composed demeanour by admitting to training with ten men in the build-up. While that is a sad reflection on the state of Scottish refereeing that a coach feels the need to prepare in such a way, Robbie has now essentially put himself into the firing line of the compliance officer and could face further punishment.
Whatever Collum’s personal feelings towards Hearts happen to be, the notion that he has a particular vendetta against the club is the exact same brand of paranoia we have come to mock Old Firm supporters for. As Michael Stewart highlighted in his piece earlier in the week, several Scottish teams have suffered as a result of Collum’s incompetence at some point or another.
The new season was only 20 minutes old when Ross County were feeling the injustice of his decision not to dismiss Craig Gordon for a professional foul. I also recall watching a Motherwell-Aberdeen match last season during which Stephen McManus was sent off for handball on the line after a shot struck his shoulder from point-blank range.
Like Hearts today, Motherwell officials were successful in getting that red card over-turned but coming to these conclusions after the damage has been done provides little consolation for the aggrieved team. At best, it is further evidence of the need for video technology to assist struggling match officials with potentially game-changing decisions, particularly referees with track records as questionable as Collum’s.
This is not to say that I disagree with what Neilson said. He is absolutely correct. Nevertheless, he has been around the Scottish game long enough to know that complaining is an entirely fruitless endeavour and that his comments are more likely to land him in further bother than spark any kind of meaningful change.
Generally speaking, referees in Scotland are substandard, yet when you consider Stewart Regan’s staunch defence of Collum and colleagues earlier this week, you are quickly reminded that Scottish referees have the backing of a governing body which itself is not fit for purpose. However, it seems bizarre that Neilson still runs the risk of punishment for criticising a decision that the higher powers have essentially admitted was wrong. The lack of transparency is galling.
Anyway, the interlull is fast-approaching and as there are no Hearts players involved for any senior international teams, we are unlikely to get any interesting club news in the next few days, unless of course we sign a highly-cultured midfielder on a free transfer before the trip to Inverness. Have a nice weekend!
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on September 4, 2015.