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Malky Mackay believes Ross County’s point against high-flying Hearts will have come as a blow to their European rivals Dundee United and Motherwell.

The three sides are battling it out for fourth and fifth place in the cinch Premiership, with both positions enough to earn a crack at the Conference League qualifying rounds next term.

Mackay feels both United and Motherwell would have expected the Staggies to lose away to Hearts, but instead they claimed a 0-0 draw.

“Celtic and Rangers are going for the league, while Hearts are looking at the cup final and they need to be ready for that,” said Mackay, reflecting on the current make-up of the top six.

“There’s then this little mini league where we have got Motherwell, ourselves and Dundee United.

“I think they were both looking at that thinking, ‘Come on Hearts – do us a favour’.

“They probably would have been disappointed to see us come away with a point.

“As far as we are concerned, the five games is now down to three. Celtic and Hearts have gone and we have got three games to go, with two at home, to manage to get that fifth position.”

Hearts manager Robbie Neilson was disappointed to be yellow-carded for dissent in the second half after he felt his midfielder Ben Woodburn was fouled from behind inside his own half when trying to start an attack. He believes Scottish officials need to be stricter in such situations.

“I was disappointed with the referee because there is a responsibility on them as well to allow teams to play football,” he said. “When you are asking a midfielder to receive the ball, if a player comes through the back of them and wins the ball, it is a free-kick.

“But for some reason in Scottish football we don’t give that. I’m pretty sure if it was Europe and if he does that then the ref gives it. But because he doesn’t, the next time the ball comes in the midfielder doesn’t want to take it so everybody starts kicking the ball long and that is a real frustration.

“If we want to take the game forward then you need to give fouls for that or the game never gets built.”

Neilson restored Stephen Kingsley and Andy Halliday to his squad after injury, albeit as substitutes. With the Scottish Cup final against Rangers looming on May 21, he hopes to have Cammy Devlin back in the mix for this weekend’s trip to Celtic Park.

“Andy wasn’t quite ready for it but he was desperate to get on,” he said. “Kingsley wasn’t quite ready. He wasn’t feeling great in the warm-up so we were down to the bare bones but we are hoping to have more back for next week. Devlin will potentially be available. He was desperate to play (on Saturday) but we pulled him back a wee bit.”