London Hearts Supporters Club

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Craig Levein <-auth None auth-> Stuart Dougal
[J O'Neil 91]
2 of 002 Kevin McKenna 11 L SPL H

Sauzee’s heartstoppers

FRANCK Sauzee, bless him, wears his emotions as deep as any ocean, and boasts the kind of inscrutability which would have served him splendidly in the old Kremlin. Here, on a day when New Year pleasantries between these traditional antagonists were few and far between, Sauzee was forced to endure a torrid 89 minutes in his maiden derby match as manager before John O’Neil emerged as the unlikely saviour for Hibernian in a contest which made up in blood, thunder and guts what it manifestly lacked in class.

This must have been a galling experience for Sauzee, whose own career was personified by precisely the sort of artistry and composure which were generally conspicuous by their absence at Tynecastle. Yet, for all that Hearts were stunned by the manner in which O’Neil capitalised on the pandemonium inside their penalty area to despatch a clinical shot past Roddie McKenzie, they could have few complaints, given the relentless energy and commitment which Hibs demonstrated in the dying embers of this fractious contest.

‘Hurtado was as far off the pace as a snail chasing the Hogwarts Express’

For his part, Craig Levein was entitled to feel dismay at the fashion in which Hearts retreated into their shell, but the bespectacled boss was partially to blame, considering his procrastination in bringing on Scott Severin and Steven Boyack, even when it was obvious in the final quarter of the tussle that individuals such as Ricardo Fuller and Steven Pressley had run themselves into the ground.

In which light, a draw was pretty fair, much as that may provoke howls of disapproval from my more blinkered friends with maroon-tinted glasses. After all, Hibs had arrived in Gorgie with a litany of woes sufficient to depress Micawber and deprived of the services through injury or suspension of Fransisco Luna, Tam McManus, Ulrik Laursen, Craig Brewster and Paul Fenwick, it was predictable that this was always destined to be a fraught afternoon for the visitors.

What they couldn’t have reckoned upon was the belligerence with which Hearts blasted out of the starting blocks and threatened to wrap up the spoils in the opening 20 minutes.

Barely half that time had elapsed before Levein’s team were in front, and while the goal was scarcely of beauty, it testified to the terrible problems encountered by Hibs in striving to stem the elusive Fuller. From his original incursion, the hosts won a corner and despite Ian Murray appearing to clear his lines, Hibs dallied in closing down the threat and allowed Steve Fulton to head the ball back into the area, and Kevin McKenna’s scuffed effort bounced over Nick Colgan’s despairing grasp.

At that instant, there was a hint of offside, whilst the chilled conditions unquestionably contributed to Colgan’s misery. Then again, Hearts were thoroughly in the ascendancy, bolstered by a twin threat of Fuller and Gary Wales, and the nippy, aggressive and occasionally over-zealous Alan Maybury, whose purposeful route 1 approach contrasted starkly with their adversaries, who invariably posed all the attacking punch of an Audley Harrison patsy.

To his credit, young Garry O’Connor did produce one splendid attempt which demanded urgent attention from McKenzie, whilst Ulises de la Cruz hurtled down the touchline like an old Powderhall sprinter. But as the first half continued with a series of grizzly tackles which made your hair stand on end even from the safety of the press box, the Hibs supporters had gone so quiet you might almost have imagined the Proclaimers had just released a new LP entitled Wallace Mercer is God.

In the thick of this, we waited for some semblance of quality from Eduardo Hurtado, the much-hyped Ecuadorian internationalist, but it never arrived. Yet what do you expect from some one nicknamed ‘The Tank’? When did you last see a tank soar into the air? Or beat a Rolls-Royce in a race.

In short, Hurtado was as far off the pace as a snail chasing the Hogwarts Express, and Hibs duly floundered.

Unfortunately, Sauzee had few options at his disposal, and though he quickly replaced Alen Orman with Mathias Jack, Tynecastle positively throbbed to the squeezebox rhythm of an anthemic choruses.

But their advantage was a slender one, and it was therefore hardly surprising that Sauzee stood impassively throughout the hubbub, arms folded, lips pursed, frozen in his own thoughts. Eventually, midway into the second period, he chose to replace the ethereal David Zitelli - all silk and no steel - with the rugged Derek Townsley, and the stage was set for a death-or-glory charge by Hibernian in search of, at worst, a draw.

Immediately, Townsley began to make a difference, and with the hapless Hurtado giving way to teenager Derek Riorden, and Hearts faltering at the death, the tempo and pattern were gradually transformed.

Indeed, despite Fuller remaining a constant threat, Hearts had clearly lost their momentum long before Levein launched his double substitution. Gary Smith latched on to Townsley’s cross and demanded a sharp save from the impressive McKenzie, then Riorden prompted an even better rearguard action from the goalkeeper as the Levein machine suddenly sprung a leak.

Most of the problems were caused by the unprepossessing Townsley, whose all-round relish for the fray was rather different to that of Hurtado, and yet it still appeared that Hearts would prevail.

Until that is, a melee, a conflagration, erupted in their goalmouth with shots raining down on McKenzie and, ultimately, a moment of joy for O’Neil and Sauzee. Not that you would have guessed it to judge from his stoical impression.

But there again, perhaps that acquaintance with reality is exactly what is required if Hibs are to build on this game in their bid to stave off relegation during the winter months ahead.

Taken from the Scotsman

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