Neilson’s decapitation remarks, bad tackles and onside decisions

Celtic’s 3-1 win over Hearts at Celtic Park last night was of the hard fought variety. And after the Edinburgh side’s impressive performance you would have been forgiven for thinking the Hearts boss would have been keen to talk up his players first half performance in particular.

Instead, Robbie Neilson turned the deflector shields up to maximum power last night as he questioned whether Alex Bernabei should have seen red for a 28th minute challenge on Hearts Nathaniel Atkinson, one which caught the defender on the ankle. However, there may have been some method in the apparent madness of his outburst.

“There was a really bad tackle and the referee didn’t book him (Bernabei). It’s happened, I’m sure Alan will be really disappointed when he looks at it. It’s not really his fault, I think he needs to at least book him but you would think VAR would tell him to have a look at it.

“I thought the whole thing was a shambles. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen no yellow card but it goes to VAR for serious foul play. I’m sure Alan will look at it tonight and firstly be disappointed with his own decision. Secondly, that he wasn’t asked to look at the VAR screen. If he sees it, I think it’s a different outcome.

“Usually, coming to Parkhead, you need decapitation before you will get a red card against you. It wasn’t to be today. There was nearly a leg off, but if the head came off, we might have got it.”

Match Referee Alan Muir points to the centre spot to award a Hearts goal after a VAR check for possible offside during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Compare and contrast to that goal Kyogo scored against Hearts that Neilson went mental about at the Head of referees left his lodge to speak out against Celtic getting the decision, yet Sky Sports despite all their cameras could NOT decide one way or the other and maybe the benefit of the doubt went the attacking team, JUST LIKE THIS ONE LAST NIGHT!

The game was poised at 1-1 when the incident took place and Hearts players were very keen to request referee Alan Muir ask Nick Walsh on VAR duty to review the incident. Walsh did so and he clearly believed the challenge didn’t merit a red card being issued to Bernabei – and he was quite right.

Robbie Neilson would have grounds for disappointment that Bernabei didn’t receive an on-field caution, but there was no malice in the tackle, no particular vigour, never mind excessive force, and although it was a painful one for Atkinson, a yellow would have been the only possible outcome.

Robbie Neilson, Manager of Heart of Midlothian, looks on prior to the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park on March 08, 2023 (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

With VAR unable to intervene for cautionable offences, Walsh had no choice but to revert to his colleagues on-field decision, wrong as it may have been. Not that any of that matters to Robbie Neilson, who was clearly keen to play to the gallery with his post-match thoughts on decapitation.

Although perhaps his post-match thoughts were intended for Sunday’s Scottish Cup referee rather than Alan Muir last night. And to that end it was perhaps a clever observation that the Hearts boss knew would draw headlines this morning and may well in turn influence the officiating in Sunday’s Scottish Cup Quarter final at Tynecastle.

Alex Bernabei had a mixed evening at best last night. The Argentinian came in for Greg Taylor who was rotated as a precaution rather than due to any long-term injury concerns, and on last night’s showing Bernabei remains a work in progress.

Alexandro Bernabei controls the ball during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic FC and Heart of Midlothian at on March 08, 2023.. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Defensively the full back was ragged throughout, but conversely as an attacking threat there were more than enough glimpses to see what Ange Postecoglou saw in the player when scouting his ahead of last summer’s transfer from Argentinian club Lanus.

It’s not the first time Bernabei has struggled against this opponent however, he lasted 66 minutes before Greg Taylor replaced him in Celtic’s 4-3 win at Tynecastle in October – and the hook could have come much sooner that afternoon. Yet, it should also be noted the full-back has supplied three assists in only ten league appearances this season, so there are certainly positives to be mindful of.

However, on the evidence so far Bernabei looks to have far more attacking prowess than he does defensive nous, and with another visit to Tynecastle – this time in the Scottish Cup this weekend – ahead of us, it would be a far from ideal scenario for Bernabei to retain his place.

To that end we can but hope Greg Taylor will be fit to start at the weekend, because Hearts proved they were a good side last night, and will be a challenge for Celtic this weekend.

It is likely then there will be no room for passengers at Tynecastle on Sunday, and although Bernabei has more than enough qualities to warrant further gametime, perhaps this upcoming cup-tie in the capital -on the evidence of last night’s showing and his last visit to Tynecastle – would not be the ideal environment for Bernabei just yet.

Niall J

On this day in 1965, Jock Stein became manager of Celtic…David Potter’s bestseller The Celtic Rising ~ 1965: The Year Jock Stein Changed Everything is available now in print on Celtic Star Books, and also on Amazon kindle, links below…

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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