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'We have had our punishment - it should be stopped now'

Hearts had become so invested in chipping away at their 15-point deficit in the SPFL Premiership at the start of the season it had become hard to countenance that the club might come to feel any lower.

Yet they have reached the New Year as lowly as Scott Robinson after he has sat down in a deep hole, since the diminutive midfielder is one of only 14 outfield players left available from the first-team squad which began the season.

Even he will be missing in a fortnight as a result of suspension - the visit of Partick Thistle tomorrow prompting a quick head count at Hearts' training ground which reaffirmed the suspension of Jamie Hamill, while such as Danny Wilson and Jason Holt are suffering from illness and injury respectively. A registration embargo imposed as a consequence of administration has left the club's management team considering picking players aged just 15 or 16 to make up the numbers.

That would seem to do little to help Hearts' faltering chances of staying up in the top flight this season, but it has also done little to cool the temper of assistant manager Billy Brown. The 63-year-old is adamant that the transfer embargo on his club needs to be lifted or Scottish football will become a farce as the Tynecastle side are left utterly unable to field a "competitive" team.

"We know we had to be punished - but the punishment should come to an end now," said Brown. "We're going to get to the stage at this club where Scottish football's credibility is going to be put into question, because if we get another three injuries or three suspensions we're going to be fielding 15 and 16 year olds. You tell me if that's for the betterment of anybody. We should be allowed to sign players now.

"It's not a bluff, this. We have got about 14 outfield players to pick from at this club. What happens? Does anybody ever put in the papers the situation that's happening here, that we could come to the stage where we can't field a competitive team? The rules are in place. It's up to the people that run Scottish football to start making decisions that are correct. We've had our punishment - and it should be stopped now."

A caveat, of course, is that Hearts might struggle to coax more experienced players to the club were they able to, while the governing bodies would seem unwilling to make an exception either. "I don't think there's any chance of that," Brown added.

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