BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Robbie Neilson has insisted Jordan McGhee’s first-half red card ‘totally changed the game’ as Hearts went down 2-1 to bottom side Dundee United at Tannadice.
McGhee was booked for persistent fouling before being given his marching orders by referee Kevin Clancy for a second yellow card just moments later with five minutes still to play in the first-half.
Guy Demel subsequently gave United a deserved half-time advantage with a bulleted header a couple of minutes later as the Tynecastle side struggled to cope with the setback.
After regrouping at the interval, the Gorgie men were vastly improved in the second-half and took only two minutes to restore parity, with a fantastic strike from Jamie Walker.
However, after Hearts had held the upper hand with just 10 men thereafter, Paul Paton won it for United with a magnificent 30-yard drive just two minutes from the end.
Neilson stormed onto the pitch to confront Clancy at full-time and was eventually given an audience with the whistler in the referee’s room.
But the Hearts head coach was not satisfied with the answers he was given about a moment he believes was crucial to the outcome of the game.
He said: “We went down to 10 men and dominated the game. Yes, we got beat with a wonder goal at the end, but the decision with McGhee totally changed the game
“You get a warning, then you get booked and then you go in and make a good tackle and you get a yellow card.
“I’ve seen it again on the video. There are things that referees look at – is it reckless, is it endangering, is it at pace, is it studs up? It was none of it and he plays the ball.
“That’s the thing that irks you a bit about referees, for key decisions like that you have to be 100 per cent sure.
“I spoke to Kevin about it at the end. He wasn’t happy about me speaking but he finally let me in.
“It’s not going to change the outcome of it but with decisions like that you have to be bang on, you have to know exactly know it is a second yellow – but it wasn’t. He said it was a second yellow card, in his opinion.”
The defeat was another setback for Hearts following their exit from the Scottish Cup at the hands of city rivals Hibernian on Tuesday.
It meant they missed the opportunity to cut the 11-point gap to Aberdeen in second – and saw Ross County close to within eight below.
However, the Jambos still have two games in hand on the Staggies and have played one less than the Dons, and Neilson has backed his players ahead of the visit of Kilmarnock next weekend.
He added: “It was a difficult game again for us. We expected to come up here and take three points and we didn’t. We have to regroup and get ready for next week.
“I can’t fault the players’ effort. They worked really hard, they fought, they dominated the game with 10 men and then Paton scores a wonder goal at the end from 35 yards.
“You just have to hold your hands up and say ‘well played’.”