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|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 10 Mar 2007 Aberdeen 1 Hearts 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Anatoly Korobochka||<-auth||Barry Anderson||auth->||Steve Conroy|
|Kingston Laryea||[S Lovell 7]|
|12||of 012||-----||L SPL||A|
Down among the dead men
HEARTS took the proverbial two steps backwards on Saturday having enjoyed an encouraging forward lunge at Fir Park last Mon day evening. The double dismissal of Laryea Kingston at Pittodrie merely compounded the disappointment felt by Anatoli Korobochka and Stephen Frail.
Champions League qualification is now virtually impossible for the Edinburgh club after their own defeat preceded a surprise victory for Rangers in yesterday's Old Firm derby. Overhauling the resultant ten-point gap between themselves and second place now looks a forlorn hope for Hearts.
Positive press hasn't exactly been difficult for Kingston to source since he arrived in Scotland, which makes his undoing of the good work all the more difficult to comprehend. Having been dismissed against Aberdeen, perhaps slightly unfairly, for two bookable offences, the Ghanaian went nose-to-nose with referee Steve Conroy and is alleged to have accused him of being a racist. The claim clearly irked the official, whose wife is black, and led to a second red card for Kingston after the match.
The Scottish Football Association have not been slow to castigate Hearts in recent years, and their disciplinary committee were expected to spring into action again this morning when Conroy's match report dropped on the Hampden Park door mat. Kingston's actions are likely to feature heavily in the report, especially after the midfielder removed his Hearts shirt and offered a kiss and a clenched fist to the Aberdeen support on his way to the tunnel.
Kingston's misdemeanours couldn't divert attention away from the deficiencies in an insipid performance from the visitors. Aberdeen were in far from vintage form themselves but statistics detailing just one shot on goal from Hearts throughout the entire 90 minutes alarmed both Korobochka and Frail.
"We're very disappointed and to be honest we don't feel we deserved to take anything from the game. Aberdeen were hungrier, they had more desire and created more chances," was Frail's view.
Hearts would have expected to respond with more conviction to Steve Lovell's early opener, which transpired from a pinpoint through ball by Aberdeen's Barry Nicholson and eluded both Lee Wallace and Christophe Berra.
"It was a sloppy goal to lose because we should have defended it better," added Frail. "Lovell made a good run but we should have been closer to him and, even then, the ball should not have been played through there. We should have stopped it."
Frail mounted little defence for Kingston, having seen the 26-year-old cautioned firstly for persistent fouling and then dismissed for a high challenge on Nicholson. "It's disappointing because the first booking was for persistent fouling and the second one was just a mis-timed tackle," said the assistant coach.
"Whether Larry was high or the Aberdeen lad's head was low I don't know, but the referee deemed it a second booking and sent him off. I can't sit and criticise the referee because as soon as you do that you're in trouble. No Aberdeen player was booked, yet we had five yellow cards. I'm not saying ours weren't bookings, but there are two teams out there."
Conroy's willingness only to take the names of Hearts players was certainly questionable in a game which could never be termed dirty. Only nine fouls were given against Aberdeen, whereas play was halted because of offences committed by the visitors on 25 separate occasions.
That said, the lack of ball retention and basic passing movements by Hearts meant they never truly looked threatening.
With five home-grown players in their starting line-up, Vladimir Romanov's intention to show faith in those youths who have committed themselves to the club long-term was clear to see. Following on from chairman Roman Romanov's assertions at the recent AGM, when he admitted players running their contracts down would be given minimal first-team exposure, supporters can probably expect to see little of Takis Fyssas and Julien Brellier from now on.
Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood chose a particularly robust line-up having spent a large majority of last week cautioning his players against the supposed physical threat of Hearts. Jamie Smith made his first start in seven weeks in a wide-left role but it was on the opposite flank that the hosts looked most dangerous. After some fairly even early exchanges, Nicholson opened up the Hearts defence to help his side into the ascendancy. The diminutive midfielder slid an incisive pass in behind Berra from a position out on the right touchline and Lovell latched on to the ball to drive it across Craig Gordon and into the corner of the net.
Hearts responded on 16 minutes when Andrius Velicka cushioned Kingston's cross into the path of Calum Elliot. He reversed the ball towards goal from a tight angle but Michael Hart had positioned himself to clear any danger.
Aberdeen were marginally the more coherent side in a first half that contained few moments of genuine flowing football.
The veteran Craig Brewster perplexed opposing defenders by regularly dropping deep, almost into an advanced midfield berth, to collect possession and instigate attacks. Nine minutes from the interval Tomas Kancelskis, making his first start for Hearts, was required to block an instinctive shot by Nicholson following Berra's headed clearance. Scott Severin then launched a long throw towards Russell Anderson, and his headed flick allowed Brewster to chest the ball and arc a dangerous volley which was beaten away by Gordon. There was a touch more urgency about Hearts' play at the start of the second period, with Calderwood's defence showing signs of creaking when pressurised. Linas Pilibaitis headed tamely at Jamie Langfield before Gordon gathered Nicholson's low strike from 18 yards. In the visitors' dugout Korobochka, left, became a more animated figure as the game wore on. The Russian was taking exception to the tenacious tackling of Kingston, using his hands to instruct Frail to tell the Ghanaian to "cut it out" after Conroy brandished his first yellow card at the African on 49 minutes.
The message, if it got through, had little impact, for 15 minutes later the 26-year-old was issued his first red card in Scottish football. His initial yellow had been for persistent fouling following a late tackle on Severin, and the same offence brought similar punishment from Conroy after Nicholson was caught high by Kingston's boot. Some remonstrations with the referee, including the "racist" allegation, preceded the sight of the midfielder trudging disconsolately from the field.
Aberdeen utilised their extra-man advantage well with Hearts forced to revert to an inexperienced three-man midfield of Kestutis Ivaskevicius, Pilibaitis and Andy Driver. The hosts could have doubled the score in the 77th minute when Lovell cut inside Berra and struck a left-footed shot at goal. The ball deflected off the sliding Christos Karipidis and looped into the air before Pilibaitis headed calmly off the goal line.
Driver curled a late free-kick over the Aberdeen crossbar before the end, and there was momentary panic in Langfield's penalty area when substitute Edgaras Jankauskas nodded Wallace's free-kick towards the onrushing Karipidis. Langfield, though, gathered at the second attempt.
There were protests towards all three officials from the Hearts players after the final whistle, doubtless fuelled by feelings of injustice at Kingston's red card. But, even with the Ghanaian present, Aberdeen had proved themselves as the more composed side and it's back to the drawing board for Korobochka and Frail.
Taken from the Scotsman
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