The better team won again:  Hearts 2 Dundee United 1

In wartime, the Chief Grouser spies the not-so-great game



The bookies and media expected Hearts to win but as fans it brings out fear and loathing in us.  Years and years of the perversity of Hearts performances have broken our confidence when we have ‘easy’ games.   But on the evidence of this, we should start believing our own form guide.  Dundee United deserved nothing from this game, and even without a few key players we ensured they got exactly that.   Hearts were pretty good - once Hearts started to play, that is - and the pre-match speculation (our drunken meanderings after the impact of the first class railway champagne breakfast) had focussed on how well or badly the team would perform after a long break.   Against a better side, or one with a better defence,  we might have gone too far behind before our quality-brand football asserted itself.   If we stand around next Saturday like we did yesterday, don’t expect to dine out on that “First Half Thistle, Full Time Hearts” bet.   But in this instance you could afford to give Dundee United a goal start because they didn’t have a second goal in them.  One shot on goal, one goal.  Hearts had a barrage and scored two.  Although that doesn’t tell the story of the game, it might just as well.


Hearts started without Macfarlane, Mahe, Pressley and Maybury, and the least vital of these omissions turned out to be Pressley - not that Webster and McKenna were entirely adequate replacements, but United were so toothless that neither needed to match Pressley’s standard.   But Webster had a fair stab at it and we saw the future captain of Hearts (Bank of Scotland permitting).  His desire and leadership qualities shone through.   The player Hearts really missed was Severin, even though he was on the field.  He contributed none of his usual virtues to the game and instead the man who conducted the music before the interval was the Fat Food For You show, Charlie Miller, soon of this parish if the crazy rumour machine is correct.  Meantime, our own former well-rounded personality was enjoying himself without the aid of a pie in the 6-2 victory over the flair machine (that’s ‘flair’ pronounced ‘shite’ by the way).


The first half was miserable.  The midfield never kept the ball for long, nothing was doing up front, Webster covered for McKenna’s ineptitude and we prayed for a visitation from Saint Steven.   Unfortunately the closest our prayers got to an answer was when The Man Himself hirpled out to do to the half-time draw.   Janczyk stood around wondering what he was meant to do and got in the way of the Severin-Stamp axis, while Wales ran about a lot and de Vries turned slowly round and round, and round.   Robbie Neilson wasn’t entirely comfortable and it was no surprise when, although they hadn't threatened any, United went ahead.  Webster did the right thing by taking out Miller when he cut through the middle and Tepi couldn’t get near Griffin’s magnificent free kick.  Previously this would have been the signal for panic stations, but when Wales and Severin went off for Kirk and Boyack with half an hour left was it obvious how good the current Hearts pool is how strong is their desire not to be beaten, and, more important, how strong is their desire to win.  Suddenly Hearts were direct and threatening as Stamp, freed from his wing commander duties, took control from the middle and pressed forward.  Kirk played perfect foil to de Vries and Boyack did what we know he can do – got wide, passed the ball, crossed the ball.  As the game opened up Janczyk’s task became far easier as he started to play the simple but effective passes through midfield to the forwards and within no time the game was over.  2-1 in the end was no more than Hearts deserved and exactly what Ian McCall deserved.  6-2 was what Hibs deserved too, and made for a fine weekend.  





Formation Dancing

some thoughts on who can play where, who can’t and who shouldn’t



Defenders: Old Castle Rock, plus scaffolding


Mahe and Maybury are better than McCann and Neilson.  However in this game it made little difference  - we survived because McCann was efficient, and Neilson wasn’t up against anyone any good.  McCann has lost weight and gained confidence, and possibly he is another man who feels he owes Levein.  It may just be that Levein could gamble on McCann/ McMullen and uses his wee bawbees somewhere else in the team.  Neilson has a long throw, and was positionally awake, today anyway.  But fast he ain’t.   Let’s not think what Mols or Agathe might do to him.

Webster is great.  Pressley’s greater but those ratings might be reversed over the next two years. From the very first, the Chief Grouser hailed him ‘Future Scotland captain’ and he has ‘old castle rock’ written through him.  McKenna seems to be going in the other way, a direction filed under “Confidence, loss of”.  He huffed and puffed and got a few headers in today, but also mishit passes, found himself out of position and generally made us as nervous as he looked.  He’ll be back, but it would nice if he could have a couple of good defensive games on the trot.  With a great back two, we also need good cover, and one out-of-confidence Kanook galoot isn’t comforting.


Midfield:   “Zulus!  Thousands of ‘em!”


Valois is doing jes’ fine, don’t worry about him.   We should just let him get on with it, perhaps with a few key messages each game (‘get him sent off…give the ball to Kirk… cut the ball back for De Vries…’   Oh sure, he’s not on fire as he once was, and it would be good to see him do some more damage, but if you can remember that far back (and doesn’t last August seem a long time ago?) he was acquired from Luton Town, and if that doesn’t tell you something I don’t know what does.  If he was all that good, he wouldn’t have been at Luton.  He is still a player who can take a pass, hold it, give a pass, and good touch on the ball allows us to get the ball out of defence without lumping it up the park.   When he loses the ball he chases back and often wins it again.   He played his best football when McMullen was his left-back.   

Stamp is magnificent. He looked imperious when he was allowed to play from the centre, only intermittently effective from the wing.  He is bastard ferocious, Hearts’ talisman, our Player of the Season by the proverbial.  The opposition midfield must look at him at the kick-off and go a little weak.  “Eh… I’ll go for the wee skinny bald yin, and tell you what,  you take Stampy,  aw-right Eck/Gash/Chicken?”

If Janczyk wasn’t totally convincing, it may only be youth and inexperience. Only Fulton has passed the ball as well as Scrabble can in the last 25 years at Tynie. At 19, though, he’s still lightweight and lacks a sense of where he should be playing – possibly because for 60 minutes the other players weren’t sure where they should be.  Once Severin went off, Boyack went wide, Stamp moved more central and forward, he sat more comfortably behind them, there for the pass, able to link it wide.   There was surprise he got in ahead of Macfarlane – and there was a battle to be won in the first half (which Hearts lost).    But he has the awareness of where our forwards are and the ability to get the ball to them, and if he can learn from experience, he’s a beaut.  

Boyack came on and played as though his life/ his contract depended on it.  He hit some fine crosses in and made it easy for de Vries, Kirk and Neilson to move into the right positions.   Hearts are nothing without width.  

Severin was entirely out of sorts, and hopefully it was just a temporary physical thing, but nothing physical ever seems temporary for Severin, whether it’s stuffing his face with Krustyburgers or struck down by less self-inflicted injuries.  If it’s a question of attitude, and there are as many times when he seems down for it as up for it, he may find he could be the next bung in the leaky dyke marked “Overdraft”.    Perhaps the Scottish enclave in Wolverhampton will add to its numbers.   No-one wants to see it, but we know too well what happens.


Striking Lucky

Up front is where the real problems may lie.  Wales ran around a lot, and often his mobility gets Hearts moving, but the ball kept running away from him and he was never dangerous.  Kirk on the other hand, came on and was exactly that, though Chief Stat will prove that Kirk scores his goals in the second half, and sometimes his first-half displays are static and ineffective.  He makes a perfect foil for de Vries (looking fitter than sometimes) who immediately seemed to sense that goals were in the air when Kirk ran into the right spaces and to head for goal every time he got the ball.  The defence got worried and got out of position.  Boyack got behind them, Kirk got to the side of them, Stamp got through them.  It was like a dam bursting, and at 2-1 there wasn’t a United equaliser in the air.    Hearts are scoring when they need to, and they needed to here.   But without class up front, a team is nothing (as United found).  There’s been no chance for the Chief Grouser to see the under 21s or 18s this season (or Alloa Athletic) but Hearts are producing decently-talented footballers a la Scrabble, Sloan, Hamill, Simmonds who can enrich the first team with their presence; but the recent history of Scottish football is not littered with young lead-the-line Scottish centre-forwards.  Positional awareness and good technique aren’t usually married with a large physique – you have to shop Duty Free for that, and find a Scandinavian or Frenchman or Dutchman.    Strange, but there you go.  


One thing’s fer sure…this is the most settled team at the end of a season Hearts have had for some time. There’s a few positions where improvements are desirable, and there’ll be a few contract ends to come, so we must assume few contract beginnings.    Craig Levein has shown his preference and intent with a smaller squad with higher class (as opposed to Another Club Somewhere Down The League who have a large pool with lots of dead wood floating in it), filling in and making do when necessary, asking questions of his young players.   When the answer hasn’t been right, and Hearts have suffered, Levein has held up his hands and acknowledged his mistake.   But other times young squad replacements have done themselves and their manager proud, and whilst it would be nice if Hearts could play as well in the first half they do in the second, currently it’s the right way round.    Keep believing in Hearts, sports fans – because it’s obvious the players do.