ROBBIE Neilson today claimed Cammy Devlin’s ordering off ended Hearts’ chances of staging a comeback against Rangers at Tynecastle – and argued that referee Steven McLean could have let the midfielder off with a yellow card.

Devlin was shown a straight red by the match official for a clumsy challenge on Ibrox winger Rabbi Matondo six minutes before half-time when his team was trailing 2-0.

Neilson was pleased with how his side, who had allowed Antonio Colak to score twice in the opening half an hour, was performing at that stage in the cinch Premiership match and felt that McLean could have let the Australian internationalist off with a booking.

“I think it’s a red card,” he said after the 4-0 defeat. “Could the referee have handled it differently? Maybe. But we gave him an opportunity to send Cammy off and I can’t really argue with it.

“I’ve spoken to Cammy and he’s disappointed because he’s let the team down, he knows that. He’s been fantastic for us from day one, he’s just got his first international cap.

“He’s eager to do well and he’s got energy. But there’s a line and there are areas of the pitch you don’t have to do that. Hopefully he’ll live and learn from it. He’s apologised to the players, but it’s done, we’ve all been there. You’ve got to learn from the experience."

Neilson added: “It could have potentially been a yellow. Cammy didn’t come off the ground, it wasn’t really at pace. But he gave the ref an opportunity by coming in from behind and has come down on it.

“When you’re playing against the Old Firm you can’t give the ref an opportunity to do that. Because it’s probably going to end up in a red card. That’s where we’ve let ourselves down today.

“Although we were 2-0 down, I actually thought we were playing quite well. We were in the game and creating chances. It was just that big moment that wasn’t there.

“The red card changed it totally. In the second half, we contained them and created a few chances, but Rangers took their foot off the gas.

“We got a man sent off after 30 minutes. When you play against good teams and you do that, leaving yourself 60 minutes against 11 men, it’s very difficult. That was disappointing.

“We lost a goal very early but responded. We got into good areas, but the final moment just wasn’t there for us today.Ultimately, the red card killed it."

Neilson revealed that he took Stephen Kingsley and Barrie McKay, who had been away with Scotland during the international break, off at half to avoid them picking up any injuries ahead of the match against Fiorentina next week.

He insisted Hearts will be ready to play the Italian giants in the Conference League in Gorgie on Thursday. 

“That won’t be a problem," he said. "They’ll be in on Sunday to prepare for Thursday. It’s a massive game. We have to make sure we keep 11 players on the pitch. When you’re playing against top teams, if you do that you’re in trouble.”