Evening Express

McInally’s fury over penalty for Hearts’ unlisted League Two sub

Hearts' Andrew Irving is substituted in the first half.

Jim McInally insists Scottish football “deserves an explanation” after Hearts’ punishment for fielding an ineligible player in the League Cup.

The Peterhead boss, who is Scotland’s longest-serving manager, believes answers are required after the Jambos subbed on the ineligible Andrew Irving in the League Cup Group C tie with Cove Rangers.

After it emerged that Irving’s contract extension – signed in January this year – had not been registered with the SFA, the Tynecastle outfit were docked two points and fined £10,000 with £8,000 suspended until the end of next season.

McInally, who has been Blue Toon manager since October 2011, finds that decision bewildering.

When manager of East Stirlingshire his team were thrown out of the Scottish Cup in January 2011 after goalie Michael Andrews’ loan extension had not reached the SFA.

He acknowledges that with the League Cup’s round-robin format it would have been difficult to throw Hearts out.

But he can’t understand why Craig Levein’s team were not docked all three points they got for winning the game.

This would have meant they couldn’t qualify from their group and made a televised final weekend clash with Inverness Caley Thistle meaningless. Instead, having been docked two points the Jambos beat Caley 5-0 to win the group.

One difference between the Andrews case and Irving case is that the Scottish Cup and League Cup are run by different bodies.

The SFA run the Scottish Cup and the SPFL govern the League Cup, but McInally still believes Scottish football needs answers following the Irving case.

He said: “We had a goalkeeper on loan from Falkirk, Michael Andrews, he had been with us the whole season.

“The cup tie was in January, his loan extension had been posted to the SFA.

“We played the game and won and they said they had no notification from us that the contract had been extended.

“Even though we said it had been posted to them, the rules are that he should have been registered.

“The only way we would have had a case was if Michael had been registered and he wasn’t so they kicked us out.

“At the time, that was desperate for our club because we had lost our financial backing, so the Scottish Cup money was going to be a lifesaver for us.

“They just kicked us out and I said at the time Celtic or Rangers wouldn’t have been kicked out for the same thing.

“The answer at that time was that it wouldn’t happen with Celtic or Rangers.

“Well, it’s happened with one of our biggest clubs in Hearts.

“I should say that this is nothing personal against Hearts, but I feel like somebody needs to speak out, this is something we have discussed at board level at Peterhead because we feel too often things like this get overlooked.

“In my opinion the minimum that should have happened was that they should have lost the game 3-0.

“I think Scottish football is due an explanation as to why that didn’t happen.

“It makes you wonder if in the future teams might think about using ineligible players if it can help them win the game and they can still get a point out of it.

“If the clubs are in charge of the SPFL – which I’m led to believe they are – then the clubs are failing Scottish football because Inverness must be reeling from what’s happened. For me the credibility of the tournament has gone down rapidly.

“I think it’s wrong what has happened and to see Neil Doncaster (SPFL chief executive) sitting with Ann Budge (Hearts chairwoman) at the Hearts Inverness game shouldn’t have happened.

“At the end of the day, Neil Doncaster is probably responsible for that decision.”

McInally feels that the smaller and part-time teams in Scotland are easier for disciplinary panels to punish.

In November 2014 Peterhead were fined £10,000, docked three points and ordered to replay a League One game with Ayr United after the suspended Reece Donaldson played in a 3-2 win at Somerset Park.

McInally added: “What made that worse was that we thought he was suspended, but spoke to the SFA and were told he wasn’t suspended.

“We then played the player, won the game and on the Monday we were hauled across the coals, fined £10,000 and the game was ordered to be replayed.

“People think FIFA and UEFA are the bodies with problems but when you actually look at what goes on in Scottish football we don’t cover ourselves in glory.”