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
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,
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
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
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
Up front is where the real problems may lie.
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