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<-Page <-Team Sat 13 Nov 2004 Kilmarnock 1 Hearts 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Glenn Gibbons auth-> Calum Murray
[P Leven 31]
8 of 012 Dennis Wyness 69 L SPL A

De Vries and Pereira point way forward


Kilmarnock 1 Leven (31)
Hearts 1 Wyness (69)

Referee: C Murray. Attendance: 6,129

IN THE way that isolation always seems to be splendid, mercies tender or tests acid, draws in football are invariably honourable. This does not mean they cannot, therefore, be a source of regret.

Despite his generally sunny disposition and ready acceptance of a point from his latest visit to Rugby Park, for example, John Robertson, the newly-appointed Hearts manager, might have spent the journey back to Edinburgh nursing a certain sorrow, perhaps even tinged with remorse.

The lamentation would derive from his decision to keep Mark de Vries and Ramon Pereira on the substitutes’ bench until their presence on the field became a matter of some urgency, the Tynecastle side a goal down and making little impact on the home defence.

Remembering the desperate urge of his predecessor, Craig Levein, to have the Dutchman and the Spaniard work together - a wish that remained unfulfilled because of injury to one or the other, or both - it was natural to assume from their absence for 57 minutes that they were not yet considered fit enough to play the full 90.

Robertson reminded us that such assumptions are dangerous by revealing that both players were omitted from the starting line-up for purely selective reasons. "Dennis Wyness and Kevin McKenna had done such a good job at Dunfermline during the week that I thought they deserved to keep their places," said Robertson. "You just make changes during a match when you think the time is right."

That kind of decision-making is, of course, the manager’s entitlement and, as often as not, proves to be sound. There are occasions, however, when it does not work out, and this was one of them. Robertson’s own unease was betrayed when De Vries and Pereira came off the bench simultaneously, to replace McKenna and young Joe Hamill.

By then, Kilmarnock were ahead through Peter Leven’s first goal for the club and threatening to extend their advantage. As Jim Jefferies pointed out afterwards in relation to the respective goalkeepers, "Craig Gordon had more work to do than Alan Combe. We had good chances and I’m certain that, if we had managed to go two up, we would have won the match all right."

Both Jefferies and Robertson agreed that Hearts had looked the better side in a pretty impressive exhibition of winning and retaining possession in the opening 20 minutes. But there persisted the impression that the visitors had neither the wit, the movement nor the incisiveness to exploit their transient superiority.

McKenna is essentially a defender whose aerial competence does not come close to compensating for a lack of the kind of mobility that bothers defenders, planting thoughts in their minds that can render them harmfully indecisive. While Jefferies was justified in praising his back four of Gordon Greer, David Lilley, Simon Ford and Leven - the last-named having moved from midfield to left-back when Freddie Dindeleux’s groin strain caused his removal after only 15 minutes - their performances were substantially aided by an unmistakable stiffness in the Hearts front line.

The transformation when the long-striding and athletic De Vries and the astute and elusive Pereira took the field was not only stark, but almost instant. The big Dutchman’s first action was to glide on to a long ball, dropping out of the sky, which he took as delicately as a snowflake on his left foot, and slip clear of challengers before being halted by the linesman’s flagging for marginal offside.

That cameo amounted to notice of the striker’s capabilities. He would fulfil the promise later, when he played an integral part in the equaliser. Gary Locke, who had replaced Dindeleux, lost possession near the Hearts penalty area and the ball was played straight to De Vries.

His graceful run, with the ball at his feet, carried him deep into home territory before he released a perfectly-weighted through pass to Pereira, who had shot through the inside-right channel. Wyness, cleverly, had peeled off to the left and Pereira switched the play on the run. Reaching the ball around the left corner of the six-yard box, Wyness hooked it left-footed past Combe.

Even Locke, in reproaching himself later, dwelled on the irrepressible fluency of the movement that had brought the goal. "I was short with a header and it was my fault that we lost possession," said the former Hearts player. "But, to be fair, they still had the length of the park to go before they could give us trouble. The move was terrific."

It was, in fact, enough to cause anyone to wonder how it might have been had De Vries and Pereira played from the start. The goal apart, their general intelligence and ball skills confirmed that, when Levein ached to have them together, he knew what he was talking about.

Hearts played the last quarter of the match as they had the first - in the ascendancy. Combe had to make a good save to prevent the marauding Pereira from securing victory with a powerful right-foot drive after he had carried the ball past two opponents as he cut in from the left.

The arrival, at last, of de Vries and Pereira as an item, could give Robertson’s new team an extra dimension, a level of performance in forward areas that could make them a consistent threat to opponents of every standard, including the Old Firm. It is no fantasy, either, to suggest that it may not even be too late to make an impression on their UEFA Cup group.

Taken from the Scotsman

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