Here's a new one: a game of one half and two quarters. And it was more than that: it was one of the best, most gripping games of football you. d ever want to see. It wasn't until deep into the game that Hearts finally fashioned the result which should have been the score at half-time; in the interim, Dundee could have equalised and who knows?
Scarcely has anyone seen Hearts play better football than in the first half; inventive, flowing, direct, determined. There was no letting the foot off the pedal, no fear that Dundee, who were always competitive and occasionally dangerous, would get an equaliser. It's about time Hearts started playing high-risk football like this, instead of being over-cautious as we were against Hibernian, because it suits our fast, wide 3-5-2. We paid Dundee NO RESPECT whatever but got on with the job of demolishing them. But for poor co-ordination up front and a bad final ball around the box, Hearts would have had it all sewn up after half an hour. McSwegan is doing Stephane Adam's job far better now than Adam can himself: his running off the ball, his leading the line is great. Adam's now becoming the weak link. His first touch is becoming a joke, he's running slower and in all the wrong directions, he doesn't seem to have the appetite any more.
He was at least in the right place to score the first after five minutes. After Ritchie's smashing tackle on the edge of the box got the ball quickly to Jackson, whose perfect pass outside the left-back put McSwegan clear, and without a second touch he slid the ball across the face of goal and Adam touched it in. Brilliant, swift and deadly and Hearts continued in the same vein for the rest of the half only without the deadly. Naysmith and Flogel were superb, getting up and down their wings, and Jackson and Severin picked them out with raking passes. At the edge of the box, though, the wrong option or a poor final ball meant that Douglas didn't have many saves to make. And on the edge of half-time, a penalty-area fankle caught everyone in a flap and Falconer's return chip might have gone in at the far post but for Pressley's brave clearnace.
The real difference with Hearts now is the sheer physical presence of the defence: Pressley was immense and his determination and toughness affects everyone else. Kevin James didn't put a single foot wrong and did a lot right: Ritchie was only third best, and he was all right, though no more. Quite why Rangers think he. s good enough for them I do not know. Maybe's he cheap.
The second half . or rather the third quarter . was crazy with a capital K. Everything Hearts tried turned to stone . it was like watching a football team missing a chromosome. All the passes went astray, Cameron ran round in ever-meaningless circles, and it was headless chicken time all over. Thankfully the defence stood firm as the midfield crumbled . time for everyone to start slagging off Jackson, as though it was all his fault . but we were all dreading the impending equaliser . McSkimming's powerful run and shot was blocked by Rousset: Tweed outjumped everyone at a corner and again Rousset parried low, and fortunately the rebound was kicked away: and the horrible moment when Rousset and Boyack went for the ball, and the referee chose to book the Dundee forward for diving rather than give a penalty, when another day
Hearts fans. stomachs turned to lead when Adam, again set up by Jackson and McSwegan, missed an Absolute Sitter . he. s lost all confidence in himself and so have the rest of us . but five minutes later a near-replica of the first goal found McSwegan tearing down the right and again he delivered a fine fast pass to Jackson on the far side and he controlled it with one touch before lashing it in. Everyone drowned in the wave of relief that went round Tynecastle. Thank God.
That was Dundee done, and Severin, man of the match, probably . won a 40-60 challenge, dummied Steven Tweed and found himself with only the . keeper and Colin Cameron to beat. In an After-you-Cyril, No-After-You-Nigel exchange, Mickey tucked it in. Justice was done shortly afterwards as Severin bulletted in a low header from Jackson. s free kick. Blimey. Thus endeth the footie game. We needed some cold drinks afterwards, I can tell you.
© Chief Grouser 1999