London Hearts Supporters Club

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Craig Levein <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> John Rowbotham
6 of 007 ----- L SPL H

Home may not be where Hearts lie for De Vries


Hearts 0
Motherwell 0

SO THE year ends as it began for Hearts, with a home point keeping them in third place. There was no other similarity between this tawdry draw and the dramatic 4-4 game with Hibs back in January, but Craig Levein can take solace of a sort from the consistency they have shown over the past 12 months.

Their recent form has been unimpressive - just one win in five league matches - but they faltered more badly at the same stage of last season, and came back strongly in the latter part of the campaign. With captain Steven Pressley due to return from injury, they have a realistic hope of doing so again, unless, that is, events off the pitch begin to take their toll.

The mood among the club’s supporters regarding the proposed departure from Tynecastle is at the moment a mixture of frustration and resignation, but will surely become more rancorous as the projected date for leaving draws near. Of more immediate relevance to the morale of the squad, however, is the possible loss of Mark de Vries during the transfer window.

The Dutchman has reportedly attracted a bid of £500,000 from Olympiakos, and has also been watched by Portsmouth. Hearts turned down the Greek club’s bid, but if the sum on offer was raised to three quarters of a million, which is the amount Hearts must find by the summer to pay to SMG as interest on their loan, the board of directors may find it more difficult to say no.

De Vries was the subject of speculation in November too, when his agent went into print to talk up his client’s chances of a move. The striker apologised to his manager then, saying he had not been party to any discussions. Now, though, he seems aware that the prospects of a transfer are stronger than ever, for all that his comments after the game were studiedly non-commital.

"I can only say I know as much as you guys," he told journalists. "I read the papers as well. I know who Olympiakos are and [I know] they play Champions League."

While the Champions League must be an attraction for a player whose current experience in European competition is limited to Hearts’ games against Zeljeznicar and Bordeaux, De Vries insisted he was enjoying life in Scotland. "I love playing for Hearts and I love Edinburgh. I still have 18 months to go on my contract and I’d be happy to stay. We will see what happens but I don’t know anything."

What Hearts know is that without De Vries their firepower is seriously reduced. Kevin McKenna began up front with Andy Kirk, an acknowledgement by Levein of how well the Canadian had played at Ibrox the previous week, but when De Vries came on in the second half the Motherwell defence immediately looked more vulnerable.

Whether it is Kirk, Dennis Wyness, Gary Wales or Graham Weir who is picked to partner De Vries, the formula is the same: the big man provides the knockdowns for his slighter colleagues, or holds the ball up until they get into position, or simply bulldozes through on his own. McKenna has the height, but he has nothing like De Vries’ physicality.

Kirk had the best chance of the first half, a left-foot shot in the tenth minute which was saved by Gordon Marshall. In the second, the closest Hearts came to breaking the deadlock was when Jean-Louis Valois, a half-time substitute for the injured Paul Hartley, took the ball from Kirk, dribbled to the edge of the six-yard box, but then shot just past the far post.

Like De Vries, Valois brings skills to the Hearts line-up which no other player can match. The down side of Valois, of course, is his inconsistency. His tendency to drift in and out of games has led to his drifting in and out of the squad. In that context, the Frenchman’s 45-minute showing here, though somewhat short of his best form, at least suggested that he is on the way back.

So, too, is Scott Severin. In recent months the midfielder has looked a shadow of the man who made it into the Scotland squad, but on Saturday, slotting into Pressley’s berth in central defence, he played with much of his old authority.

Having praised some individuals in the home team, one should add that, as a collective, Hearts were badly disjointed. "Our creativity was ... Well, I wouldn’t say nonexistent, but I don’t know what the next word up from it is," Levein said. Almost non-existent: that would do.

The same could be said of Motherwell, whose best chance came and went when Keith Lasley lashed over with the goal at his mercy. Yet, having halted a run of four defeats, and got his team over the 20-point mark, Terry Butcher was clearly the happier of the two managers. "Both teams cancelled each other out," Butcher said. "It wasn’t a Christmas cracker, but I’m delighted to end our losing streak, come to Tynecastle and not concede a goal."

Like De Vries, Motherwell’s Stephen Pearson could be on his way soon, and he too began the match on the bench - for the simple reason, his boss added, that he had been playing poorly of late. Celtic, Everton and Blackburn have all expressed an interest in the player, but Butcher insisted that no deal has yet been done.

It will be a major surprise, nonetheless, if both Motherwell and Hearts reach the end of next month with their present squads intact.

Referee: J Rowbotham.

Attendance: 10,046

Taken from the Scotsman

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