Hearts players back Rix after Romanov 'picks team'

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Heart of Midlothian's turbulent season veered towards fresh uncertainty last night as the club captain, Steven Pressley, called a players' meeting for today to discuss suggestions that the club's owner, Vladimir Romanov, rather than the head coach, Graham Rix, is picking the team.

Pressley made the announcement after Hearts, second in the SPL, were held to a 1-1 draw at Dundee United, thereby letting slip a chance to reduce the eight-point advantage of leaders Celtic to five points. Paul Hartley's late penalty for the visitors cancelled out Grant Brebner's 35th minute opener. The gap is therefore seven points this morning, and will be 10 if Celtic beat Falkirk at Parkhead tonight.

"It has been a very difficult day for the players," said Pressley, just after the match, and only hours after sources among the playing staff had revealed a day of confusion at the club.

One player told The Independent that Rix had gathered the first-team squad together after training yesterday morning and told them that the squad for last night's match was not chosen by him. Another player had earlier told BBC Scotland that Rix had said: "Romanov is pulling the strings, picking the team including the substitutes, and has total control."

Rix succeeded George Burley after the former Tynecastle manager left the club because of "irreconcilable differences" with Romanov. Burley was unhappy with Romanov's interference in team matters, including hiring of players without consulting him.

Last night, Pressley said: "We've had to endure a lot, time and time again at this football club. I must stress we are 100 per cent behind our manager. He is a great coach and a lovely man and we are fully supportive of him. I don't want to go into the finer details of what happened but I think everyone is aware of the events... The mood amongst the players now is of confusion."

Rix declined to comment on the matter, saying his future "is out of my hands." Whoever picked last night's team made six changes, controversially dropping the Scotland defender, Andy Webster, a mainstay until now.