HEARTS caretaker manager Steven Naismith has expressed his “disbelief” at the red card his defender Alex Cochrane was shown just before half-time in the 2-0 defeat by Celtic at Tynecastle.

The Edinburgh club dominated the first-half of their cinch Premiership match against their Glasgow rivals and had numerous chances to open the scoring.

However, the game turned when Cochrane pulled down Daizen Maeda just outside his penalty box after a Carl  Starfelt long ball upfield.

Referee Nick Walsh initially showed the Englishman a yellow card for the foul on the Japanese winger and awarded a free-kick.

However, VAR official Willie Collum felt the offending player had denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity and urged his colleague to look at the incident again.

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After watching a replay his pitchside monitor, Walsh upgraded the yellow to a red to the fury of the Hearts supporters inside the ground.  

Naismith, whose 10 man team lost after conceding second-half goals to Kyogo Furuhashi and Oh Hyeon-gyu, felt the ordering off cost his team a result.  

“I am disappointed that we did not get some points on the board at the end of the game,” he said. “Until the first goal, we were in the game and played well. We caused them problems. We are disappointed to not come away with anything."

Asked about the red card, he said: “I don't agree with it. That is my opinion, but there is still a bit of work to be done by Maeda as he heads into the box.

“He is travelling at speed, the ball is moving, and there are covering players. I think the referee made the right call (to show Cochrane a yellow initially).

“Like I said, I thought the referee made the right call. He is the closest to it and he sees it. Our players were in disbelief when the decision was checked and overturned because he still had a lot of work to do before he gets a finish.

“It was disappointing because until that moment in the game we had the best chances. The game had been mainly played in the Celic half and we had a real belief that we could get something from the game.

“Then it became harder. As soon as the red card happens, the game hinges on the first goal. It’s as simple as that.

“Credit to Celtic, the goal is very good, that's what they do and you see loads of their goals come from that same kind of movement. Their two goals today come from the same movement.

“But we worked really hard and when we look back there will be lots of positives for us. The next two games are the biggest of the season and they will define our season.”

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Hearts play St Mirren away on Saturday and then Aberdeen at home - and Naismith is hopeful that his men can get victories in both of them and secure third place in the Premiership table if they perform like they did against Celtic.

“This was going to be our toughest challenge, but we equipped ourselves well,” he said. “Before the game I said we would be aggressive and have our moments and we did that.

“We were brave defensively against the best forwards in the league and they never created too many chances until the red card.

“There are loads that we can take from it, loads of positives. I have said consistently that there’s a good group of players here, who want to do better, want to improve and be successful. The last two performances you can see that’s the case.”

Naismith was knocked over accidentally on the touchline by Celtic winger Jota just before half-time today – a flashpoint that prompted his opposite number Ange Postecoglou to jokingly make a VAR sign.

The former Kilmarnock, Rangers, Everton and Scotland forward made light of the moment afterwards. “That was a red card!” he said. “Nah, I went down too easily.”