Hearts' Robbie Neilson bemoans “lack of strong referee” over two red cards in Celtic defeat; gives injury update for Europa League decider

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson effectively questioned referee Kevin Clancy’s competence following his team’s 2-0 defeat at Celtic Park.

Robbie Neilson remonstrates with fourth official Greg Aitken on an afternoon he felt referee Kevin Clancy undermined his team's hope of taking something from Celtic Park with two late red cards. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)
Robbie Neilson remonstrates with fourth official Greg Aitken on an afternoon he felt referee Kevin Clancy undermined his team's hope of taking something from Celtic Park with two late red cards. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

He claimed that but for two red-cards his much-changed side could have avoided defeat, even though they trailed 1-0 when Alex Cochrane and Toby Sibbick were dismissed for second bookable offences in the 89th and 90th minutes, respectively. And Neilson, who rotated his personnel with one eye on Thursday’s Europa League play-off decider at home to FC Zurich, pointed to a set of stats to suggest Clancy had failed to be even handed in the packed east end of Glasgow citadel.

“When you come here you need strong referees, and if you don’t get that it can lead to difficult times,” he said. “We made 11 fouls, had two red cards and five bookings. Celtic made 12 fouls and got nothing so that is the difficulty when you come here to Glasgow. You need that strength and I don’t think we had it today. The boys are disappointed because we wanted to win. We aren't here expecting to get beat and I think we showed in periods that we can win. We still need to build. We need decisions to go our way as well because there are times when they don't when you come here. That's only natural. The crowd noise and the pressure, you don't get these big decisions. We just need to deal with it.

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"It works for us at Tynecastle. When we come through here, sometimes it doesn't work. Overall, I thought it was a good performance but not the result we wanted.”

The Tynecastle manager made six changes from the team that lost 2-1 in Switzerland, with keeper Ross Stewart impressing in deputising for Craig Gordon. The Scotland international had a back spasm but both he and Stephen Kingsley will return for the second leg, though not Craig Halkett. “That's where we are at the moment,” he said. “Halkett is short-term but I don't think he'll make Thursday. He might be another week after that potentially. I thought he [Stewart] did really well. I thought all the guys who came in did. We had a number of niggles here and there, and had an eye on Thursday night. They all came in and looked great.”

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