Robbie refuses to Beat on John as Hearts pay for profligacy
After a painstaking few weeks getting reacquainted with the feeling of defeat, the last-gasp League Cup turnaround at Rugby Park followed by the point taken from last week’s trip to Parkhead seemed like a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it was a case of one step forward, two steps back on Saturday when Gary Locke’s band of Hearts alumni left Tynecastle with a point in somewhat fortuitous circumstances brought about by the home side’s wastefulness in front of goal.
For weeks, the main deficiencies in the team have been in defence, particularly the number of goals being conceded from crosses and set pieces. While there are still question marks over one or two individuals within the backline, the past couple of defensive performances have been a general improvement on the Hamilton, Inverness and Aberdeen horror shows. In the meantime however, the team’s attacking threat appears to be regressing, most notably on Saturday when instead of having the game in the bag by half-time, they let a mediocre Killie side off the hook. As Sam Nicholson admitted:
“It’s just down to taking chances, myself especially. I could have got a couple but it didn’t go in for us. When we were winning 1–0, I thought we looked quite comfortable. Obviously, you’re never really comfortable at 1–0 and anything like that can happen. When it does, you start looking back to the chances you’ve missed. I’m just as much to blame as anyone for missing chances.”
Nicholson’s comments certainly show awareness of how costly these wasted chances can be, but just as the recent defensive issues have suggested, the team’s main problem is more about a lack of fluency across the team than individual mistakes.
When Aberdeen visited Tynecastle last month, the difference in cohesion shown by both sides was night and day. As the Dons players were putting their bodies on the line for each other, there was a notable distance between the Hearts players, each player waiting on the next to pick up the slack. In terms of individual quality, there is not a great deal between the teams. However, Derek McInnes has seen his side gel to great effect over the past few seasons, adding only one or two new recruits each season to boost the overall quality of an already-settled squad.
By contrast, the wholesale changes imposed by Robbie Neilson during pre-season have seen a number of teething problems in a squad that is still some way from the togetherness shown by the teams around us or, perhaps closer to home, last season’s Championship-winning side. Of course, it is perfectly understandable that Neilson wanted to add greater quality to the squad this season and (although it might not be immediately apparent given recent results) I believe he has done.
Looking at our summer departures, only Jason Holt and Kevin McHattie have made instant impressions at their new clubs while the rest have struggled with either form or injuries. On that basis, letting these players leave seems like a sound decision. However, considering the time it is taking for their replacements to gel, doubts can also be raised over the decision to break up such a close-knit group of players so hastily.
Although the lack of fluency was ultimately to blame for two points dropped, the appalling performance of referee John Beaton did nothing to help matters. A man with a blatant God complex, Beaton set about making himself the centre of attention at every opportunity, resulting in a game as stop-start as rugby and some truly baffling decisions against both teams (some of which were made with the assistance of his linesmen when he was better-placed to make the call himself). In different circumstances, most managers would have drawn considerable attention to this basic lack of control, but having been handed a suspended two-game touchline ban this week for his recent comments about Willie Collum, Robbie Neilson’s assessment of Beaton’s performance was conspicuously muted:
“The referee didn’t miss clear-cut chances for us…it’s up to us to score goals.”
Unfortunately for Robbie, the recent context of his relationship with match officials and the SFA means he has to watch what he says for the foreseeable future. However, the recent Collum debacle has not only put the spotlight firmly on refereeing standards in this country, but also provided a damning indictment of the governing body itself due to the nonsensical contradictory nature of Neilson’s punishment.
In the same week that Neilson was his suspended two-game ban for “implying incompetence” of an official the SFA had already overruled, Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths was handed a near-identical punishment for his part in a xenophobic chant about Hearts’ former Czech star Rudi Skacel. This can be interpreted in two ways.
On the face of it, it would appear we have a situation in which our game’s governing body legitimately believes a factual statement about a referee’s red card count is an offence equally as grave as casual racism. While most supporters, including myself, have highlighted this glaring disparity, I do not believe that anyone within the SFA actually believes the two offences to be one and the same.
Instead, it would appear Scottish football’s governing body is simply more concerned with silencing dissenting voices against its own shortcomings than tackling more pressing issues. The SFA will hope the prospect of a touchline ban is enough to make Neilson think before speaking ill of referees in future. Despite Neilson’s insistence that it won’t prevent him speaking his mind, his refusal to criticise arguably the worst all-round refereeing performance Hearts have experienced this season suggests otherwise. “Game SFA” in other words. In the meantime, however, the more serious problems that continue to poison our national game, such as racism and sectarianism, are swept under the carpet with relative leniency (assuming Griffiths isn’t daft enough to make the same mistake twice).
The Griffiths episode was a prime opportunity for the SFA to make a bold statement about wholly unacceptable behaviour and verify its commitment to anti-racism initiatives such as “Show Racism the Red Card”. In most industries, such a situation would be handled appropriately and the offender made an example of. Following a similarly despicable incident involving a group of Hearts fans travelling to and from the Celtic game, the club was quick to condemn their behaviour and vowed to root out those responsible. Sadly, while its member clubs have shown commitment to addressing the problem, the SFA appears incapable of similar action and instead continues to demonstrate the same ineptitude that it accepts from its match officials.
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on October 6, 2015.