EXCUSES. We've heard them all now, haven't we?

Whether it's managers blaming referees for their team's failure to win matches or politicians blaming baked goods for ambushing their working schedules, excuses have become a staple of our lives.

After a match like Wednesday night's Tynecastle clash between Hearts and Celtic, where the margin comes down to a single goal, it's almost inevitable that controversial refereeing decisions will come up in the aftermath – usually from the manager on the losing side.

That's part of football, and those honest assessments while temperatures are still at a peep are part of what keeps the game entertaining.

But Robbie Neilson's belief that his berating of referee John Beaton and his officials over Celtic's second goal influenced the whistler in the lead-up to Hearts' response to make it 2-1 was a novel idea.

The visitors had taken a 2-0 lead when Giorgios Giakoumakis flicked home Matt O'Riley's cross from what appeared to be an offside position, although replays were far from conclusive (we'll come back to this point later).


Celtics Georgios Giakoumakis (left) celebrates scoring his sides second goal with Joao Pedro Jota (right) during the cinch Premiership match at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh. Picture date: Wednesday January 26, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Hearts.

Celtic's Georgios Giakoumakis (left) celebrates 


Neilson told BBC Sportsound after the game: "I was talking to him about the 'offside'. For me, the linesman has got to see it. For me, it's a bread-and-butter one for him and he's not done his job."

But Neilson felt vindicated when Liam Boyce's strike with half an hour to go was allowed to stand despite similar suspicions of offside.

"Probably me speaking to him [the linesman] at half-time has maybe influenced him," was the Tynecastle manager's conclusion.

Hearts were also awarded a second-half penalty, it should be noted, that Boyce fired against the post to blow the chance to draw level. But Neilson never mentioned that.


Heart of Midlothians Liam Boyce after missing from the penalty spot during the cinch Premiership match at Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh. Picture date: Wednesday January 26, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Hearts. Photo credit should read: Jane

Liam Boyce after missing from the penalty spot

So what is the solution offered to these split-second refereeing injustices? Gone are the days of mass conspiracy theories, or at least we thought so until Rangers' Scottish FA summit last week to discuss the performance of referee Kevin Clancy during their 1-1 draw against Aberdeen (when, to be fair, the man in the middle was the only person in the ground who missed Allan McGregor's rugby tackle on Ryan Hedges). Most have moved on to the vogue notion that VAR will rid Scottish football of the evils of poor officiating and push us more in line with our friends down south who now have everything sorted.

So fashionable, indeed, has the practice of drawing perpendicular lines across still, two-dimensional images of incidents occurring in matches that the amateur sleuths on social media will often respond to flashpoints in matches with their own, clip-art graphics demonstrating apparent flagrant breaches of rules.

This was a particularly prevalent theme the last time Celtic and Hearts met, when a still shot from the broadcasters' footage apparently confirmed that Kyogo Furuhashi had strayed beyond the last man and ahead of the ball as Anthony Ralston whipped it across goal. That the image was taken from an angle above and behind the action was ignored, that the precise moment the ball left the right-back's foot is impossible to discern given that his foot is covering the ball is incidental. The issue of perspective also seems to have been completely ignored. It's like Father Ted explaining the concept to Dougal: the distance between the cuts in the grass are not smaller, they're just further away.


Kyogo Furuhashi scores to make it 1-0 to Celtic

Kyogo Furuhashi scores to make it 1-0 to Celtic


That's not to say that the Japanese striker wasn't offside, it's that it's virtually impossible to tell.

The person with the best view of the incident was the linesman, and we're best to take their assessment of it – aware that sometimes they'll make mistakes.

Broadcasters are partly to blame for the fallacy that their still images are sufficient to make these calls. They've been pausing screens from various angles and asking panels of ex-professionals to comment for decades. Rarely is there a consensus, it should be noted, which is another part of the theatre of the game.

The only way to provide the officials with the means to reflect on contentious decisions meaningfully is to introduce VAR in full, an expensive business, which requires all the camera angles necessary for calls to be reflected on accurately. I'm not sold on the idea that the interruptions to play and the continued sense of injustice over contentious VAR calls is worth all the fuss. And, ultimately, if any real ambiguity over offside calls somehow vanishes, managers will blame the laws themselves.

Again, where have we heard this before: "it was just wine and cheese in the garden", "what's a slice of cake in the office in the middle of a mammoth shift?", "it was just a suitcase of cheap booze", "those were just chimpanzees we hired in for a game of naked blind man's bluff... the rules were stupid in the first place." You get the picture. You'll soon hear the same from managers after someone's earlobe is called offside by VAR: "What do you mean his ear was offside? Back in my day we gave the attacker the benefit of the doubt. The rules must change" and so on. The theme is, as Neilson suggested in response to Hearts' goal on Wednesday night, that by complaining enough it'll go your way the next time.

It's ultimately about accountability. Football is a simple game. Too often managers chase the "we deserved to win" argument. That rule in football will never change: the team that scores the most goals wins. It's up to the managers and players to go and do that and, when they don't, they've only themselves to blame.