Whappo! The ball fell flush onto the right boot of Alan Maybury and he exercised that most primeval of urges in every single one of us and he volleyed it. In. The Goal. With hardly a moment left.
I enjoyed it quite a lot, but I didn't over-celebrate. It wasn't that I couldn't believe it; I wasn't in the slightest bit surprised, considering that anything and everything has thus far been possible in the scottishpremiercrapleague. I felt faintly embarrassed at being lucky: that God was patronising us somehow by letting us blag two more points from a game that would be next to the dictionary definition of DRAW. Thistle were competent and solid throughout, employing the worthwhile tactic of waiting for Hearts to gift them something. Thistle didn't create a thing all day: their chances were given them by slack Hearts play, possession given away, that sort of thing. Hearts tried to be creative but were let down by the usual mixture of cluelessness and ineptitude. Thistle showed their hand with a couple of bookings for hard, nasty, cynical challenges - Hearts got theirs through idiocy and petulance. Saying which, the referee was the worst sighted thus far.
Sure, Hearts got lucky, Thistle didn't, but if you approach a game as unriskily as Thistle did, you can't complain if you lose, even if it was with the last kick of the game. The stats show that Hearts had a go. Remarkably, Thistle's best efforts were in the game's very closing and the last five minutes saw narrow escapes at both ends - the Spectre of "0 - 1 (Milne 89)" got out of His seat, but sat down again, and for no really good reason Hearts struck. Maybury had his usual game (ie, nae good - some people still don't spot his nae-goodness because it's so well-hidden amongst a lot of other rubbish) but he had shown one flash of football earlier in the game when he raced down the right (with the ball), past the left-back and hit a wicked early cross that was impossible to defend, nearly happened up a goal. A daft thought, but perhaps it would have been better to put Maybury in Boyack's place, further up the field to encourage him to attack more (and get him the hell away from our defence). Since we didn't have another spare right back, it wasn't possible and with Boyack back and calming things down we may see Hearts improve a little. There are two things Hearts are badly in need of: one of them is more possession in the middle of the park. McFarlane isn't hugely talented, but his slowness does allow him to stand around in a central position as a pivot for some decent little bits of passing. He doesn't overelaborate and he's not uncompetitive. His attitude seems spot-on and in such a talentless division, a good attitude is vital. That's how Thistle are coping so well: attitude. Of course, you cannot talk about attitude without the S-word - Simmonds. Levein must think there's something there (though perhaps he thought Janczyk would make the midfield too lightweight) but a couple of classy touches early on and a blistering shot just wide were about all he had to contribute. It might all come right eventually, who knows? I hope so, he's a good player, and we can't afford to be too picky at the moment. It was good to see him celebrating as lustily as anyone after Maybury's goal.
The other thing Hearts are desperately seeking is someone to lead the line. Kirk seems desperately short of confidence. He should be the target man, running down the lines, through the channels, prompting passes from the midfield, or well-directed long balls from defence - rather than the seven-irons in de Vries's general direction - but he seems content (not that you'd know it from his miserable coupon) to stand around and wait for something to happen for him. If he ran around a bit, he'd take the pressure off himself but also off de Vries, who generally has to men close on him. Hearts' style of play is keeping de Vries stationary - things need to be faster and more fluid so he can start facing the goal again, rather than spending most of his time with his back towards it. But Kirk isn't getting away from any defenders as he used to. The least one can say for Gary Wales is that he's enthusiastic. Come to think of it, that's the most one can say for him, but fortunately we know he doesn't read this.
Hearts fans are, believe it or not, no more critical than others, but Edinburgh folk are. Believe it or not, Hibs fans have got higher expectations, which is why they are so often disappointed. But from mostly everyone predicting doom and gloom at the start of the season, beating Hibs, the comeback against Motherwell and the surprise victory over Dunfermline acted as some kind of mind rubber which erased the forecasts of the family of Jeremiahs. Suddenly we were brilliant, de Vries was going to be picked for Holland and the only sounds of discontent amongst the Oh No Brigade was that Valois was so damn' good that he was bound to be sold to Rangers by Christmas. Well, they should cheer up, 'cause now everyone understands why he was playing for Luton Town in the first place. Equally, Dordrecht are probably as bad as the name sounds. However, I don't think Valois has been playing all that badly. It's just that he's not been playing all that well. Even against Hibs at Easter Road, when he couldn't take a free kick for toffee, he did a lot of important defensive work in the same way as McCann used to: always there for a pass, always able to control the ball, hold it, give it to a Hearts player. His superb pass to Twaddle with ten minutes left might have brought an equaliser; his tackle on Orman seven minutes later actually did. Hearts' early-season performances were good because the team was structurally well-balanced: Boyack's subsequent absence has toppled the midfield just as surely as when you remove a can of Heinz spaghetti hoops from the bottom of the stack. You'd like to think a professional football team could withstand the loss of a single cog, but this is Scotland and we are Hearts. We hear of teams playing a single formation from their first eleven down to their under-14s; nice if you've got the resource. We ain't. It's make-do and mend, and currently, as we lie fourth in the league, with a reasonable goal-difference and the promise of a few healing injuries (though do remember there are other players to be injured as well as those to recover) we might yet finish top six again. And before anyone Huffs and Puffs and says We Should Be Aiming Higher Than That, have a look at where Livingston and Aberdeen are. Since Celtic became Any Good in 1995 (and that's the period governing when all judgements should be made, not "over the last ten years" - that would bring Raith Rovers and Falkirk into the equation) no team has finished third twice in a row. Both Hearts and Hibs have witnessed False Hopes of Golden Dawns (though our sun actually shone high in the sky for a day or two) and win a pint in a pub by asking someone who finished 3rd in 1998-99. (clue: we're not playing them this season). I laughed until I was sick when we beat Livingston last week, convinced that just as a masked wrestler had to remove his mask when he was beaten, I would have the right to remove the Big Drum from the Livingston Lummox, and ceremonially plant it firmly around his person, head-first. He could then be rolled back sideways along the backroads to Pumpherston via Newbridge, Uphall and all those places where they regularly sight UFOs. I've been out that way and I saw a few aliens, let me tell you.