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2 of 002 John Millar 78 L Premier H

Levein, Johnston play their part as Hearts draw hope from derby match


14 Jan 1994

A DRAW at home in a derby match that they have not lost for more than five years might not appear like a watershed in their miserable season, but Hearts and their fans may be entitled to think otherwise.

The indications from Tynecastle following the 1-1 draw with Hibs on Wednesday are that, bearing in mind the inherent football folk's caution, the Gorgie men quietly believe that they may be about to turn away from the spectre of relegation and build their way to a more acceptable place in the premier division.

Despite the stalwart effort of their players to keep Hibs, who are 10 points ahead of them, in check, the fact that Hearts have managed only one win in 18 matches will ensure that excessive optimism is restrained, but the performance against their old enemies did offer genuine hope that they will be able to restore some pride to their fans who, until Wednesday, were getting more and more frustrated.

The restraint shown by the Tynecastle aficionados when Hibs took the lead went a good deal of the way to inspiring the side to retrieve the situation -- although Hibs' astonishing retreat into defence at that point helped just as much.

That meant a great deal to manager Sandy Clark, but he knows that the hiatus will last only as long as the next match, against Partick Thistle at Tynecastle tomorrow.

Clark, who has maintained an admirable dignity in the midst of ferocious and, at times, ugly criticism from some of the supporters, was greatly encouraged by the attitude of all his players -- but two in particular, Craig Levein and Maurice Johnston, impressed with their eagerness to act above and beyond the call of duty.

Levein had not played for eight weeks and scarcely trained, but it was after a bounce game on Monday that thoughts of a return, even to the full heat of a derby match, were weaned.

"I watched him carefully and he looked strong," said Clark.

"He said he wanted to help the team.

I decided to leave it up to him and, on the day, he was sure he could cope, although he was not 100% fit."

Levein's display as sweeper was influential in a defence that also included keeper Henry Smith, who was making his first appearance in the top team since September.

But the surprising reference to Johnston in the Clark summation came because the striker also volunteered his services when he could have stayed out of the flak.

"Maurice wanted to play even although it is less than a week since he suffered a painful thigh injury in training.

But he and Craig are experienced players who know the score and they typified the spirit throughout the side."

The manager pointed out, accurately, that Smith had only one real save to make -- in the last minute -- and on that basis his team had every right to take a lift from their showing.

"But we have been in this position before," he added, "and we have failed to build on it.

That is why, in a sense, the game against Thistle is even more important than the one against Hibs.

But if we can repeat that performance in the weeks to come there is no doubt we will climb up the table."

The smile on the face of chairman Wallace Mercer was as good an illustration of the relief at the ground as any, but he remains willing to sell his majority shareholding if a suitable deal can be arranged.

The analysis of the continuing failure of Hibs to overcome their old rivals will have to be set aside by manager Alex Miller for a while, especially as they have a tough schedule to overcome if they are to maintain their presence at the lofty end of the table.

They have a tough visit to Kilmarnock tomorrow and then travel to meet St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, followed after their Tennents Scottish Cup tie with Clyde by the visit of Aberdeen to Easter Road.

They could put the disappointment of the derby result behind them very quickly but, sooner or later, will have to return to the self-examination required to sort out their appalling derby record.

Miller appeared as mystified as the Hibs supporters at the immediate retreat of his men after they took the lead.

"We gave them the initiative at a time when we had been passing the ball well and dominating the game."

But there is no sign of the removal of the mental block which seems to assert itself in Easter Road minds every time they meet Hearts.

Taken from the Herald

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