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<-Page <-Team Wed 23 Oct 2002 Hearts 3 Ross County 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Craig Levein <-auth Jonathan Coates auth-> John Rowbotham
1 of 002 Steven Pressley pen 56 ;Jean-Louis Valois 58 ;Stephen Simmons 85 LC H

Hearts prove kings of County

Hearts 3 Pressley (56 pen), Valois (59), Simmons (85)
Ross County 0

Referee: J Rowbotham. Attendance: 6,454

STEVEN Pressley, championed by many to dictate Scotland’s defence for the foreseeable future, demonstrated his ability to influence matters at the other end at Tynecastle last night with an assured penalty that broke down the stubborn challenge of Ross County.

The Hearts captain and centre-half broke the deadlock 11 minutes into the second half of this CIS Cup third-round tie, ensuring County would not repeat the elimination of Craig Levein’s men they enacted this time last year. The goal hastened the First Division side’s demise after long spells in which Hearts, dominant throughout, had seemed unable to convert their pressure.

Jean-Louis Valois added a second almost immediately, and Stephen Simmons shot home from 20 yards after a messy clearance from Neale Cooper’s defence with five minutes to spare. The third added a little aplomb to Hearts’ progression into the last eight, where they will be hell-bent on pursuing a prize that has eluded them for four decades.

"I’ve got to be pleased, considering the problems we have had, that we managed to get through," said Levein, crippled by injuries in midfield, at the end. "You get chance after chance in these games where the ball doesn’t run for you, but we continued to pass the ball and we deserved what we got in the end."

Cooper, manager of the Dingwall side, cried foul over Gary Wales’ role in the decisive penalty, but admitted a feeling that his side had under-performed. "One or two of my players should be doing a little better, and most of them can do better," he said. "You have to be able to play on a platform like this."

The icy temperature might have had something to do with the sparse attendance at Tynecastle, but the League Cup is not something Hearts fans have deemed pleasurable viewing for some time. Even Chris Robinson, the chief executive, pointed out in the match programme that Scotland’s third most prestigious trophy has not resided in Gorgie since the 1960s, and only once has the tournament taken Hearts to Hampden since.

It quickly became apparent that the scars borne by Hearts from their weekend turfing by Celtic were not purely psychological. Nowhere more than in midfield were the damaging physical after-effects on display, with Scott Severin and Phil Stamp missing from Levein’s already depleted central midfield.

In came Simmons for the debutant David McGeown, whose mantle of pressure was transferred to another new face, the untried but impressive-looking Neil Janczyk. The shortages forced upon Levein led him to deploy Andy Webster among a back-three which did not immediately settle, but defensive confusion was a condition that afflicted County in the early stages too.

When Kevin McKenna rose to meet a tenth-minute corner from Valois just eight yards from goal, it ought to have been a routine manipulation of some terrible marking. The Canadian’s header, though, flicked the crossbar on its way over.

Hearts would rue that miss during a first half replete with more difficult, if uncomplicated chances. Janczyk saw a fierce left-foot volley saved by Tony Bullock, then Mark de Vries produced a powerless volley on the run after waiting for Simmons’ lofted through-ball to come down.

But Hearts did not lack urgency, and when Pressley raced out of the box and threaded the ball to Simmons in the centre circle, the teenager made his way determinedly to within shooting distance and fired the ball hard and low, just beyond Bullock’s right-hand post.

By the time a sprawling Gary Wales came mightily close with a long-range header, Hearts would have felt they had produced more than enough creative superiority and attacking intent to merit being in the lead. Yet the status quo survived the half.

Steven Hislop failed to get any weight behind his shot when County’s only notable chance of the first period arrived, before De Vries directed Valois’s near-post cross wide and Simmons saw a point-blank shot blocked defiantly by a Highland goalkeeper who was playing the lead role in this picture.

Unable to fashion a lead through open play, Hearts eventually did so from the less satisfying route of the penalty spot. De Vries held the ball up well with his back to goal and knocked it gently on for Wales, who had burst into the box from the right. The amount of contact made by Martin Canning as the striker flung himself down was not beyond dispute, but the defender made little complaint as John Rowbotham directed his finger towards the spot.

Pressley struck the ball as close to the top left corner of the net as it is possible to do, and as so often in inter-divisional cup ties, the favourites rode off into the distance. Hearts all but formalised their quarter-final place by doubling their lead within three minutes.

Paul McMullan supplied the kind of curling low cross that defenders at the near post are never quite sure what to do with, and Brian Irvine decided not to intervene, watching aghast as Valois slid in to beat Bullock to the ball and direct it to his right from eight yards.

Hearts: McKenzie, Maybury, Pressley, McKenna, Webster, McMullan, Simmons (Twaddle 81), Janczyk (McGeown 86), Valois, De Vries, Wales (Kirk 75). Subs not used: Gordon, Dunn.

Ross County: Bullock, Canning, Mackay (Cowie 84), Deas, Irvine, Gilbert, Bayne, McCulloch, McGarry (Higgins 86), Hislop, Robertson. Subs not used: Fridge, Webb.

Taken from the Scotsman

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