Yesterday every Celtic player on the park at Tynecastle was kicked or elbowed or barged illegally, in keeping with Hearts avowed strategy of playing football against us. Long grass and long balls up the pitch. Welcome to Scottish football 2018.
Yesterday it succeeded, but that has as much to do with our decision to rest key players. Had we played the French lads – including Dembele – I do believe the result would have been very different. Hearts took advantage of a team who have their focus on Tuesday night and even then they eked out a slender 1-0 win. Had it not been for a calamitous week off the field, nobody at Celtic Park or amongst the support would have been sweating it.
Heart’s thuggery yesterday was epitomised in the spectacle of the neddish Steven Naismith standing over a pained Johnny Hayes. The image is nothing but ugly, and should result in serious SFA sanctions although even writing that sentence makes me laugh. None will be forthcoming, because the SFA itself have as good as sanctioned the thuggery.
On Friday I wrote about Alan Stubbs and his disbelief at the decision to rescind the Morelos red-card. The video footage of him discussing it with the media showed a man who couldn’t quite believe what he was commenting on. He said that it had created a “grey area”; into that area, Naismith stamped yesterday with his cowardly kick at a Celtic player lying on the turf. I had half expected something of that sort to happen.
The SFA is good at creating these kind of deadly precedents. Several years ago, when Celtic were being accused of launching a campaign of intimidation against refs the media went all out to demand greater protection for officials. Just a year later, a referee was appearing at Hampden to plead for clemency for a Rangers player who had pushed him during a scuffle at Celtic Park. The SFA rescinded the red card and fined him instead.
Neil Lennon said at the time that it had “created a dangerous precedent.”
Of course it did, but Bougherra was cleared to play in important matches and that was the point. Morelos played and scored at Ibrox today in a 2-0 win over St Mirren, so as far as the club and their legal team is concerned it’s a job well done.
But the kind of behaviour we saw from Hearts players yesterday is a direct consequence of creating an environment where they know they can get away with it. Naismith wasn’t even booked for his part in that incident, neither for the vicious challenge or the disgraceful way he acted afterwards. His yellow card was for an incident later in the game.
At this point it seems futile to ask for protection for our players, Kieran Tierney in particular who continues to be subjected to loathsome treatment everywhere he goes.
A Sevco player was sent off today; wait to see how the media and his club tries to rewrite the “last man” rules in the coming week, and they may even get away with doing so, creating a “grey area” there too … the SFA has lost control of players with such questionable decision making and this is to say nothing for the fact that the linesman from last week’s game didn’t officiate this weekend – the governing body’s version of a punishment beating for daring to do his job.
The SFA is a disgrace at times. I am not blaming them for the despicable treatment our players got yesterday – the reason, and the only reason Brendan fielded a weakened team – but they created the conditions that allowed Levein to send his hammer throwers out there to maim.