London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Jim Jefferies <-auth None auth-> Kenny Clark
2 of 002 ----- L SPL H

Everything but the goal as keepers hit derby high notes

THERE are goalless draws, and then there are ... Yesterday’s Tynecastle tie had plenty to make up for the lack of a winner, as the two Edinburgh sides gave us a spirited advertisement for the continued appeal of domestic football.

Not always pretty, rarely stylish, the derby somehow remained never less than fascinating. That it failed to provide a goal flew in the face of all logic. Certainly Didier Agathe’s miss in the first-half was a surreally unlikely one that may haunt him for a while yet.

The goalkeepers emerged as the heroes, Antti Niemi making two spectacular fingertip saves and Nick Colgan proving equally reliable as Hearts surged forward in the final stages.

Franck Sauzee, as is his habit, gave us the match’s class element, looking accomplished as a sweeper and turning diplomatic emissary at one point, when he asked the Hibs supporters to hand over the fan who had hurled a missile at Niemi in the second-half.

Traditionalists may carp that the last sultry Sunday in July is no sort of date to contest a local derby. The received wisdom about these games calls out for the sting of a November Gorgie gale and mud underfoot to facilitate those last-ditch sliding tackles.

From the outset yesterday afternoon though, it was apparent that this was going to be a full-blooded affair. Absorbing and incident-packed from the kick-off, the game always had a satisfying ebb and flow about it as the balance tilted between teams with contrasting formations and approaches.

Hearts’ pre-season problems have been in the boardroom rather than the dressing-room, although suspensions and injury had deprived them of several key players, notably Darren Jackson, and Stephane Adam had been ruled out after injuring himself in training on Saturday.

The Hibs line-up, with a preponderance of shaven heads looked like a Saughton Prison XI until you noticed that Mixu Paatelainen’s early season waistline spoke eloquently of a less-than-spartan dietary regime.

Alex McLeish boldly started his Scottish Premier League campaign with a three-man defence orchestrated by that languid playmaker Sauzee. For 20 minutes at the start of the game, the new Hibs captain and his cohorts Gary Smith and Paul Fenwick looked more than a little uncertain facing Hearts’ full-throated assault, before gradually they began to gel.

For the visiting supporters, gleefully yelling "Where’s your money gone" at their hosts, the opening exchanges were worrying. Three times Andy Kirk might have secured the lead for Hearts.

The first two opportunities were difficult enough, instinctive turns in the penalty areas and blind shots across theface of goal and wide of the goalpost.

The third chance was far more attractive. Finding himself in plentiful space on the right of the Hibs area, Kirk was able to advance to the six-yard box where Colgan’s excellently timed lunge to claw the ball away prevented a certain goal.

The home fans bayed for a penalty when Scott Severin’s header appeared to rebound off Matthias Jack’s arm, but referee Kenny Clark wasn’t in a generous mood and Hibs began to look a little more comfortable.

The tide changed and Hibs remembered some of the swift passing movement that made them sporadically a joy to watch last year. Agathe showed some lively touches, breaking away behind the Hearts defence twice in the first half-hour.

In the 27th minute he seemed to have opened the scoring with a simple far-post tap-in. The offside flag wiped the grin off his face.

It would get far worse for the Frenchman five minutes before half-time. His persistence harried Steven Pressley off the ball at the edge of the Hearts area and when Agathe deftly flicked the ball around Niemi, he seemed to have done all the hard work. With the open goal looming though, Agathe stubbed his shot with the outside of his right foot. The ball crawled goalwards, allowing Thomas Flogel to dash back, cackle delightedly and clear the ball around the post.

It was an astonishing miss, but one that was almost forgotten seconds later when Russell Latapy’s corner was headed goalwards by Ulrik Laursen, forcing Niemi into a fingertip save beneath the crossbar.

Football’s strange laws of symmetry made the second half begin with another outstanding Niemi save, to tip away a 25-yard free-kick from Sauzee; followed by another remarkable miss from Agathe, who failed to make contact from five yards out, with the goal gaping.

With Hibs holding the initiative, the last thing they needed was trouble from their fans. When a plastic cup hurled from behind the goal struck Niemi, the goalkeeper was rightly incensed and Sauzee approached the Hibs end to ask for calm.

The needle was apparent on the pitch as well, as Colin Cameron became increasingly frustrated and short-tempered and John O’Neil reacted angrily to one too many robust challenges.

Hibs lost their momentum, and midway through the second half, McLeish replaced Agathe with Tom McManus.Jefferies responded by bringing on Gary McSwegan for Kirk.

McManus duly had his chance for local glory ten minutes from the end. Latapy’s pass was redirected astutely by Laursen into the path of the young substitute. With a shooting chance apparent, he hesitated fatally and Gary Naysmith sprinted in to dispossess him.

After that, the closing stages belonged to Hearts and a flurry of chances in the last five minutes almost secured the points. Cameron signalled the charge with a shot on the run that kept Colgan alert.

A shot from Severin from an unlikely angle out on the right cannoned bizarrely off the woodwork. Then, with the Hibs fans looking at their watches anxiously, Flogel made headway down the right.

His cross ball fell invitingly to Naysmith, whose drive at goal was parried instinctively byColgan. The first save was impressive enough, but the goalkeeper was in the right place again a split second later to catch McSwegan’s diving header from the rebound.

In the end it could have been 3-3. Instead we were left goalless, but hardly dissatisfied.

The Teams:

Colgan; T Smith, G Smith, Fenwick, Laursen, Sauzee, Jack, J O’Neil, Latapy, Agathe (McManus 67), Paatelainen.

Heart of Midlothian:
Niemi; Flogel, Pressley, Petric, Naysmith, Tomaschek, Cameron, Fulton (Simpson 78)Severin, Kirk (McSwegan 70), Juanjo.

Taken from the Scotsman

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