London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Tue 26 Dec 2000 Hearts 1 Hibernian 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Craig Levein <-auth None auth-> Willie Young
[S Lovell 41]
2 of 004 Gary McSwegan 60 L SPL H

Regrets? Hibs have a few

Hearts’ grit got into Hibs' shoe yesterday, causing the Easter Road men's stride to falter so alarmingly that the Tynecastle side were able to force a dead heat out of a derby they were threatened with losing by an emphatic margin.

Having taken the lead through Stuart Lovell close to the interval, Alex McLeish's players appeared likely to pull clear during an opening spell in the second half in which they tormented the home side with some incisive play – and tortured their own support by squandering a series of chances.

At the end of the day, Hibs found themselves level on 48 points with Rangers, but retain second place by the narrowest of margins on goal difference, and have played one game more than their Glasgow rivals.
Gary McSwegan's equaliser may have shocked a full house at Tynecastle, but it was an appropriate reward for Craig Levein, the young manager having fulfilled his pre-match promise that his team would not go down without a fight.

Levein's edict to his players on the subject of unflinching commitment must have carried one or two severe motivational penalties – such as "don't bother coming back if you have not demonstrated a readiness to die for the cause" – and Hearts, as a result, brought to their work the fierceness of religious zealots.

Even their demanding new manager could have picked no fault with this application, but there were lengthy periods in the match when he must have longed to see the home side temper it with more calculated and composed play.

A little envy of Hibs' ability to combine energetic endeavour with cool, clinical intelligence, especially when moving forward, would have been understandable.

Watching his own team spend substantial time in the visitors' half without summoning the incisiveness to inflict damage, Levein may have sensed, like many of us, that the Easter Road side were more likely to translate their occasional surges into an advantage. It was close to half-time before it happened, but when Lovell scored, it was difficult to escape a feeling of inevitability. Hearts had made more attempts, but Hibs' efforts had been more concerted and promising.

The goal was almost typical of the general pattern of the first half, Hearts pressing forward and suddenly finding themselves the victims of a deadly counter-thrust. Steve Fulton, indeed, had just completed a marvellous, feinting dribble on the left by delivering a low centre, which spun off Robert Tomaschek and spun high and wide of the Hibs goal.

From the kick-out, David Zitelli supplied Ulrik Laursen on the left, and the big Dane played the ball along the ground across the Hearts goal area. Lovell's run had been untracked and by the time he arrived at his destination, he was utterly isolated, sliding the ball right-footed past Antti Niemi from eight yards.

The appearance of Laursen in the Hibs team was a bonus, the left-back having sustained a calf muscle injury against Rangers, causing a scare over his availability, but he lasted just 59 minutes before being replaced by Ian Murray.

Russell Latapy, too, had to recover from a groin strain to make the match, but Hibs had no joy with their appeal to the SFA over the automatic suspension of midfielder John O'Neil after his ordering-off at Ibrox.

To compensate for O'Neil's absence, McLeish minimised interference by fielding Lyndon Andrews as a straight replacement. However weakened by O'Neil's absence Hibs may have been, it was certainly balanced by Hearts' misfortune after 20 minutes, when Kenny Milne collided took second prize in a collision with Andrews and had to be carried off.

The significance of his departure – he was replaced by Gary Locke – was that Levein was left without a left-sided player in a defensive area and Fulton had to fall back and operate virtually as a wing-back. Not only was his potential creativity lost to the midfield, but his lack of practice at covering the ground back into defence after the breakdown of an attack was exposed when he was missing as Lovell gave Hibs the lead.

Despite this handicap, Hearts almost led themselves when a long free kick made its way to Gary McSwegan, whose hooked volley on the turn was deflected marginally over the bar by Franck Sauzee.

McSwegan would have much more success with his next effort, the equaliser.

Fulton's cross from the right was knocked down and back by Tomaschek and McSwegan, taking the ball on the drop with his left foot, sent it low and hard to the left of Nick Colgan from 20 yards. Considering how the second half had shaped in the previous 14 minutes, it was a genuine surprise.

The difference between the sides before the break had been subtle, Hibs' class having made them look more capable than opponents who seemed to have to strain every muscle to keep in step. Before McSwegan's equaliser, Hibs' superiority had been so pronounced that they should have scored at least twice.

With Andrews, Latapy and Jack simply gliding through midfield, opportunities arrived in showers. A Mixu Paatelainen header, a flick from Zitelli and Latapy was looking at Niemi, the ball at his feet. The little Trinidadian allowed the goalkeeper to make the save with an obvious, waist-high shot too close to the latter's right side.

Then Jack to Andrews to Mixu and another fine save from the Finn's curling left-foot shot, followed immediately after McSwegan's equaliser by Andrews pushing deep into the penalty area, but hesitating long enough to allow Steven Pressley to block what should have been a scoring drive.

On the basis that the primary objective in any derby is not to lose, both sides could legitimately claim a degree of satisfaction. But Hibs would have the bulk of the regrets.

The Teams:

Colgan, Lovell, G Smith, Fenwick, Laursen, Sauzee, Jack, Andrews, Latapy, Zitelli, Paatelainen.

Heart of Midlothian:
Niemi, Pressley, Petric, Tomaschek, Cameron, Fulton, Murray, Severin, Milne, Kirk, McSwegan.

Taken from the Scotsman

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