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With refs flying in, Hearts have chance to show their resurgence to a wider audience

By Martin Dempster

UNLESS they've got someone in the family who is a senior Scottish referee, the news will have gone down well with the Sky producers.
As the whole of Scottish football waited with baited breadth to discover if the SPL programme would be played this weekend, the mouth-watering prospect of two entertaining teams clashing in front of the satellite channel's cameras on Sunday hung in the balance.

Thankfully, it won't be a case of "lights, camera, no action". The SFA have successfully secured replacement referees - understood to be from countries including Poland, Portugal, Luxembourg and Malta - to counteract the striking senior Scottish whistlers, meaning Motherwell and Hearts will be meeting at Fir Park in their tasty encounter.

Hearts are the hottest team in the country, a run of four successive wins - over Hibs, Celtic, St Johnstone and Hamilton - having catapulted Jim Jefferies' side above Motherwell into third spot in the table.

Winger David Templeton is flying, the youngster thriving on the confidence he gained when he lit up one of Sky's channels a few weeks back with his wonder goal in the win at Easter Road.

It would have been a crying shame, too, if Kevin Kyle had been deprived of his latest chance to show people south of the Border why he's proving such a handful for SPL defenders at the moment.

And then there's Marian Kello and the maroon wall in front of the Slovakian goalkeeper, Hearts heading for Lanarkshire on the back of four successive clean sheets.

Add in a Motherwell team that his its own flying wide man at the moment in Chris Humphrey, the player who tormented Hearts in a 2-0 win at Tynecastle earlier in the season, as well as Nick Blackman, a striker every bit as impressive as Kyle, and you'll see why those TV producers would have been gutted to see Fir Park lying empty on Sunday afternoon.

"It should be a cracking game," admitted Hearts boss Jim Jefferies, pictured, who will be hoping his side can turn the tables on a team that won 2-0 at Tynecastle earlier in the season, when Craig Brown's men were well worth their three points.

Hearts, though, look a tougher proposition heading into this one, a settled side - Jefferies has been able to name the same starting XI for the last four matches - having worked hard to notch those four wins to jump above this weekend's opponents.

"We are going well and so are Motherwell, there are a lot of players in good form in both teams," added the Hearts manager, who is also delighted to see Sunday's game get the go-ahead from the SFA after a week of uncertainty since the referees announced their shock decision to take strike action.

Having recently completed a touchline ban for remarks he made to Willie Collum at Parkhead earlier in the season, Jefferies himself quite possibly played some part in the action which is being taken by the country's most senior whistlers.

The newly-turned 60-year-old is far too long in the tooth to change his ways in the dugout and insists there will always be occasions when things are said in the heat of battle that will keep landing managers in hot water with the SFA.

But he acknowledged that heftier fines and longer touchline bans are almost certain to be imposed in future as a result of this weekend's walkout, which, though he understands to a point, he wishes hadn't been necessary.

"I hoped everything could be sorted out and put to bed so that we could get on with things. However, they (the referees) are in a strong position and have obviously made up their mind they are going to see it through," said the Hearts manager.

"Ever since the Dundee United game they've been lambasted and it's grown arms and legs since then to the extent it has gone over the score.

"I know where they are coming from; I just hoped they would not take strike action and we could get it resolved by agreeing some common ground. We need to get this out the way and back to playing football. They feel they have probably taken enough from certain quarters in recent weeks and are making a stance. If they had backed down, people would have been saying it had been a bluff, but they have obviously been hurt by what has been going on. I can see where they are coming from. We know there is a certain club making statements against them which is giving them cause to be even more angrier. Some people aren't letting it go. They've been getting it from all quarters and have obviously decided that enough is enough.

"I can understand it, but I don't think it is right. I think it is a step too far. I think it could be sorted out another way. But that's the way of the world just now. If you're not happy with something you go on strike.

"One of things they want is stricter action against clubs, so we are all probably going to get hit heavier in the future. People will maybe now have to be wary that they can't go over the top with it. And, if we do, we are the ones going to be punished more.It will be managers, players and officials."

Whatever the outcome, Jefferies warned it won't stop referees from being criticised for decisions and, even if the SFA is successful in bringing in foreign officials for this weekend's games, he expects one of them to be in the firing line for something on Monday.

However, he believes referees are sometimes too sensitive at times and says, like everyone else in the game, they should take the criticism on the chin and get on with their job.

"Every time I've attended a referee's meeting at the start of a season, I've discovered that they don't like comments against them in the press, they have never liked it. If anything, they are probably a bit paranoid but that's football - you just have to accept it," he noted.

"Criticism is part of the game - players get it, managers get it, officials get it. Some get it more than others and you've just got to accept that is part and parcel of the game.

"When it becomes wrong, and I feel sorry for them, is when it starts affecting people's private lives and they get phone calls, threats etc. That's not right. However, criticism through media is part of football. We all get praise and sure the referees do as well. As long as it doesn't get out of hand and there are things in place that should prevent that from happening.

"Managers and players get sent off - that's happened and will continue to happen. We take our punishment and get on with it. We don't fall out with the referees over it or lambast them.

"That won't change even after this is sorted out. We know the score. If you keep doing it, the punishment you face will get harder and harder.

"I hope they can get referees (for this weekend] because we want to play.

"(Even if the SFA bring in referees] they'll make good and bad decisions and there will probably be comments on Monday about some of the decisions - it is Scottish football, after all.

"And you often hear Rangers and Celtic saying after European games that you don't get away with things as some of the Continental referees blow up for everything. We will have that to contend with that as well."

Taken from the Scotsman

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