London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2004-05--> All for 20041125
<-Page <-Team Thu 25 Nov 2004 FC Basel 1 Hearts 2 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Kristinn Jakobsson
[C Carignano 76]
17 of 018 Dennis Wyness 31 ;Robbie Neilson 89 E A

Calculated gamble paid off in Basel


WHEN the Hearts line-up against Basel was announced half an hour before kick-off on Thursday night, there was a collective intake of breath. Was it wise to be quite so attack-minded from the off against the Swiss champions? Would John Robertson’s tactics be exposed as naive by Christian Gross, his opposite number in the home dug-out?

A couple of hours later, we had our answers. Far from being naive, the Hearts coach had got things exactly right. There was an element of luck about Dennis Wyness’ goal, which stood despite Ramon Pereira’s being in an offside position, but Robbie Neilson’s 89th-minute winner simply epitomised the team’s fighting qualities.

Hearts could have been tempted to settle for a draw after Cesar Carignano’s second-half equaliser, and for a spell only some last-ditch defending, with Craig Gordon and Alan Maybury to the fore, prevented Basel from taking the lead. But, having been briefed by Robertson to go for the win, they stuck to their game plan and got their reward with Neilson’s first goal in senior football.

Reflecting on the match, Robertson said his strategy had not been a wild gamble. "It was a necessary risk, because we had to win the game," he said. "Due to the quality Basel had, we had to defend well too, and that’s what we did."

Indeed, the fact that Hearts started with three recognised strikers, plus Joe Hamill in a fairly advanced role, did not mean that anyone would be allowed to shirk defensive duties. Mark de Vries was back in his own box as usual for opposition set pieces, and Gordon highlighted the contribution of another forward when explaining where he thought the match was won.

"It was a massive result," the goalkeeper said. "No one person deserves the sole credit - everyone was a hero on the night. We even had Ramon making tackles at left-back, which is unheard of, but that just typified the team spirit in the side."

Of course, while strikers made their contributions at the back, the defence also helped up front - no-one more so than Neilson, whose ground-level shot went straight through the legs of Pascal Zuberbuhler in the home goal. "I think Robbie was the most unlikely ever goalscorer apart from me to get the winner, but it’s great for him," Gordon added. "He has waited a long time for it, and I’m delighted he scored when it really mattered."

The Scotland goalkeeper was not the only one to be shocked by the identity of the match-winner. Robertson revealed that his predecessor, Craig Levein, had been in touch to express his own surprise.

"Craig texted me last night. He’d been listening to the game on the radio, and said he just about dropped his glass of wine in disbelief when he heard Robbie had scored. He [Levein] thought he must have thrown it in from the halfway line."

An ability to take long throw-ins, however, is far from being Neilson’s only talent. Tenacious in defence, the 24-year-old also has the stamina required to regularly get into the opposition half of the field - albeit once there he usually supplies crosses for others rather than finishing off moves himself.

Neilson is just one of the members of the Hearts squad who has grown in stature as a result of this season’s UEFA Cup campaign. Even if they go no further than this group stage, Hearts will have played six matches in Europe this season - a total which some of the club’s most celebrated players failed to reach over the course of their entire careers.

The experience is proving invaluable, but Thursday night proved that Hearts are not just in the competition to learn a few lessons from more celebrated sides. They want to go as far as they can, and the 2-1 win in Switzerland has greatly improved their chances of reaching the last 32.

With two match days to go in Group A, there are still a lot of permutations. Basically, though, Hearts will go through as one of the top three clubs if they beat Ferencvaros at Murrayfield next month, provided Basel do not beat the Hungarians in the previous round of games.

"Our fate is still out of our hands, but we’ve put pressure on the teams who play next week," Robertson noted. "It’s a tough place to go and win. Look at the teams who have failed to win there." Those teams include Inter Milan, Juventus, Valencia, Liverpool and Celtic.

Hearts come back to earth tomorrow when they visit Rangers on league business. The Edinburgh side have suffered some adverse results over the last couple of years in the aftermath of European games, but Robertson would rather have a big game than one played out before a small crowd.

"Sometimes it is difficult to come back from European games to play in front of only 6,000 or 7,000 people. But we will be playing in front of 50,000 people at Ibrox, so the concentration and belief has got to be right again.

"This is one of the biggest results in the club’s history. By winning these types of games, it will give the players the belief that they can go to places like Ibrox or Celtic Park and get a result."

Alan Maybury is banned after being sent off in last week’s 1-0 loss to Motherwell, but Patrick Kisnorbo and Paul Hartley are available again after serving European bans. Robertson could make several changes to his starting line-up to take account of the amount of energy the win in Basel took out of some players, but whoever plays the aim will be the same. Another away win.

Taken from the Scotsman

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