Steven Naismith insisted Hearts' defeat to Rangers hinged on a late penalty award which he insisted should not have been given. The Edinburgh club led 1-0 entering the 90th minute but lost 2-1 at Ibrox, leaving players and coaches incensed.
Lawrence Shankland's early header put the visitors ahead and they looked comfortable trying to see the game out. However, in the dying moments, referee John Beaton awarded a penalty to the hosts after reviewing a touchline monitor on VAR's advice. Beaton decided Peter Haring impeded Connor Goldson inside the box at a corner, and James Tavernier duly equalised from the spot. Minutes later, Danilo headed Rangers to a 2-1 victory.
Hearts are outraged that other incidents were not reviewed or picked up. They claim that the Rangers midfielder John Lundstram impended Haring in the penalty incident, causing him to foul Goldson. The visitors feel Lundstram barged into Haring and that led to him impeding the Rangers player. Naismith approached the match officials for an explanation.
"I don't think it's a penalty," he said. "The full game, every corner there was blocking going on where Rangers players were not even interested in the ball. All they were doing was looking at our man, blocking our players to stop them losing their runner.
"I spoke to the officials and they said if it was given a goal, it would then be given as a foul. Lo and behold, there's a clear block on our man. John Lundstram is not interested in the ball, all he is doing is looking at our player, and he blocks him, and it gets given as VAR as a penalty.
"The referee said that he was never shown any video footage of any block happening. There's contact with our player as the ball is coming in by a Rangers player who is not interested in the ball. Clear obstruction, clear blocking, should be our foul.
"VAR should see that a foul has happened before the two players make contact [for the penalty]. He said he didn't see that far back but it's pretty obvious, to be honest, when you look at it. And then, for the penalty in the first half, there's two minutes added on and it gets given in the 48th minute. Small details but they have a big impact."
Hearts' gameplan had worked extremely well up until that stage. "It's really disappointing," said Naismith. "We're sitting here having not taken anything from the game. We played really well, we understood how the game could play out. It went the way we expected.
"Second half, we knew they would take more risks. We knew we would have defend well and be resolute to frustrate them. We did that - and then the game hinges on the penalty, for me. We were defending well, comfortable in possession, so the game plan did work. The contrast from last week [against Celtic] to this week is really good. Last week was not acceptable, we were honest about that. This week it was different, much clearer.
"We knew we needed to be brave on the ball, we did that. And at moments you need to defend, Rangers were resorting to cross balls, shots from the edge of the box that didn't really trouble us. So that's why there's so much disappointment."
Asked if the performance could give Hearts belief for next Sunday's Viaplay Cup semi-final against Rangers, Naismith replied: "I think so. It's a different dynamic, it's a cup semi-final, it's got to be done to a finish. The fans are going to be roughly an even split, so the game's totally different. But we believe, we believed last season. If we do all the things right we can compete in all the games. We showed that again."
Philippe Clement, the Rangers manager, praised his players' defiance late in the match. "I got the reaction I wanted. Our strength needs to be that we never give up," he said. "We still need a lot of details to be better but if we show the right mentality and reaction, we are a very good team. Was it perfect? No. For me, this is a reference game. They see now that, if they never give up, a lot of good things can happen."