London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2003-04--> All for 20031227
<-Page <-Team Sat 27 Dec 2003 Hearts 0 Motherwell 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Craig Levein <-auth Simon Pia auth-> John Rowbotham
4 of 007 ----- L SPL H

The heartache of having to leave home

SIMON PIA at Tynecastle


CRAIG Levein is not a manager to hide behind an excuse, and he refused to accept that Hearts’ flaccid display yesterday was due to speculation about their future at Tynecastle. However he conceded "it has been difficult for everyone here. A monumental decision has to be made and it is difficult to ignore", he was consciously or not admitting morale is low and the club need something to lift them.

Terry Butcher, though, received exactly that with a much-needed point that brought a four-match losing streak to an end. Still Butcher was honest enough to admit "it was not pretty" which was possibly an understatement to say the least.

But it is probably an indication of the progress Motherwell are making overall under Terry Butcher that he felt he could afford to leave Stephen Pearson, the much feted Scotland Under 21 international out of the starting line-up for their visit to Tynecastle, as there has been much speculation over the last week that the midfielder had been unsettled by a bid from Celtic for him. Butcher also put it down to Pearson’s form recently being poor but insisted no deal had been done and was pleased with the midfielder’s performance when he came on late in the game.

Meanwhile, although Pearson has been exceptional for Motherwell this season, Butcher is confident enough that he is building a competent and effective unit rather than a makeshift outfit with one or two talented individuals. After all, James McFadden had come and gone without Motherwell falling apart.

Indeed, they had weathered his loss better than most outwith Fir Park would have thought.

However, Butcher would have instructed his charges that they would be up against it from the start at Fortress Tynecastle, generally accepted these days as the most formidable citadel outwith the Old Firm cauldrons in Glasgow.

However, one could not but muse on for how much longer as this New Year, in particular, approaches and one reflects not just on the year past but over a century of football in Gorgie. Not only is it hard to imagine Hearts elsewhere, it is almost sacrilegious. More than most football cities, Edinburgh is territorial with Hearts very much rooted on the west side just as Hibs are in Leith and environs. Perhaps it was a portent of times to come that the familiar smell of beer and biscuits no longer hangs over Tynecastle as it did on many a Christmas past.

Whether or not this foreboding permeated what was a flat affair is debatable, although Craig Levein had conceded afterwards it is unsettling and affects the atmosphere in the dressing room. Hearts were also far from full strength with Steven Pressley still absent with his thigh injury, while Mark de Vries could only make it to the substitutes bench.

But Hearts did start with some brio. Phil Stamp looked sharp with prodding passes from the midfield, while Andy Kirk provided a lot of movement up front alongside the more static Kevin McKenna. Indeed it was Kirk who came as close as Hearts got to goal in the first half after 10 minutes when he cut out from the centre to the left to turn and curl in a shot, but Gordon Marshall was alert to it and dived to parry. From the corner Marshall kept his composure as he moved into the near post to tip away a header from Paul Hartley.

Then it was Scott Severin’s turn to push up from midfield and test the goalkeeper. However, Martin Corrigan and Stephen Craigan held firm in the centre of Motherwell’s defence and slowly they took the sting out of Hearts play. Craigan in particular was outstanding, handling effective strikers a good head taller than him in first McKenna and then substitute De Vries.

Meanwhile the compact short-passing game of Motherwell these days bears more than a passing resemblance to the Dundee United style familiar and much loved by their assistant coach Maurice Malpas. Derek Adams and Scott Leitch also subdued Neil MacFarlane and Paul Hartley in the middle, while Jason Dair and Keith Lasley were prepared to push up and support Alex Burns and David Clarkson.

While theirs was a stable midfield, Hearts were dysfunctional. Stamp was impressive in a roving role, moving inside and even switching to the left wing, but a gap was opening up that put Robbie Neilson under pressure which he had trouble handling. The full-back almost gifted Motherwell an opening when he lost possession and Adams popped the ball through for Burns, but it just ran too far ahead for Craig Gordon to come out and clear. Then the full-back was caught on the ball and Robert Sloan’s foresight managed to contain the danger.

However there was a lack of directness about Motherwell, unlike Hearts who while poor on the build up snatched at any half chance that presented itself. Stamp pulled a save out of Marshall with a speculative shot in 38th minute, before a Kirk header drifted over from the edge of the box. Levein had to change tactics and brought Jean Louis Valois on at half-time as left winger while Paul Hartley, who never looks quite right in the middle, stayed in the dressing room and Stamp took over in the middle, his rightful domain.

Hearts were far more effective although the Frenchman remains an enigma - can anyone remember the last time he performed for the full 90 minutes? Still, he created the best chance of the match for himself with delightful skill, evading two defenders as he drifted across the box, but when he cut back his shot he pushed it past both Marshall and the post.

De Vries’ replacedMcKenna after an hour, undoubtedly with the speculation over a move to either Olympiakos or Portsmouth on his mind, speculation which Hearts have attempted to diffuse by valuing him at £1m. A huge presence literally, the Dutchman could not live up to it figuratively, which was due more to lack of match fitness than anything else. When he broke clear of Steve Hammell in 75th minute in the box, he stumbled as the defender put in a tackle when on another day he might have stuck it away.

Even when Hearts got a free-kick on the lip of the box in the final minute, there was not too much anticipation as Valois smacked it into the wall, bringing it all to an impotent end.

Taken from the Scotsman

<-Page <-Team Sat 27 Dec 2003 Hearts 0 Motherwell 0 Team-> Page->
| Home | Contact Us | Credits | © 2004 |