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|<-Page||<-Team||Sun 06 May 2007 Hearts 1 Aberdeen 1||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Anatoly Korobochka||<-auth||None||auth->||Brian Winter|
|[B Nicholson 90]||Barry Nicholson|
|1||of 002||Andrius Velicka 13||L SPL||H|
Aberdeen seize initiative for European push
HEARTS 1-1 ABERDEEN
WITH a four-point gap between the teams at the start of play, Hearts should have been the ones doing the chasing. Instead, it was Aberdeen who first went on the hunt for an early goal, and then, after falling behind, doggedly and relentlessly pursued an equaliser. They got it at the death, thus maintaining the gap, and making it even more probable that they will hold on to third place and claim a spot in the UEFA Cup.
The staggered kick-offs on Saturday mean that there will be two separate chances of the issue being settled. If Hearts lose in the Edinburgh derby at lunchtime it will be all over for them. Then, even if it is a home win at Tynecastle, Aberdeen will step out at Celtic Park knowing their destiny remains in their own hands, and that if they defeat the champions they will be back in Europe.
Beyond that, Hearts visit Kilmarnock on the last day, while Aberdeen are at home to Rangers. It is never easy playing the Old Firm back to back, but it is surely easier to do so when the Glasgow teams have nothing to play for. Hearts, by contrast, were unfortunate to encounter Rangers when Walter Smith's side had yet to secure second place.
In brief, it is hard now to envisage circumstances in which Aberdeen can throw it away. They are confident, they are hungry, and yesterday at least showed none of the timidity which can bedevil sides in such circumstances. Remember the nail-biting nervousness of the same fixture a year ago, when Hearts claimed a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds with a late Paul Hartley penalty? This was nothing like that.
And, again unlike last season, Aberdeen have prevailed in the head-to-heads with their Edinburgh rivals. They lost 3-1 at home in September, but won the following two matches, each by a single goal. Yesterday's draw therefore took their haul against Hearts to seven points out of 12 - not conclusive in itself, but surely an indication of a slight superiority over the season.
And yet, having said that, Hearts so nearly blew the race for third place wide open again. Having weathered an early storm thanks to Laryea Kingston's goal-line clearance of a Lee Miller header, they took the lead against the run of play when, after Zander Diamond carelessly lost possession, Andrius Velicka seized on an angled pass from Roman Bednar to score with a low shot from the left of the box.
The Lithuanian striker's goal did nothing to change Aberdeen's style of play, which was no surprise given they had been trying from the first to impose themselves on Hearts. At least in territorial terms they were making a good job of doing so, and for the rest of the half looked like they were the home team. They created a few good chances of their own, notably a Lee Miller header which came back off the post, and they restricted their hosts to hopeful punts up the middle, where Diamond and Scott Severin were coping well with the aerial threat of Bednar.
Andrew Considine, the other element of the three-man defence, was less reliable. Having been booked before the goal for retaliation against Bednar, he surely came close to being sent off for a second yellow card when he committed a further offence late in the half. Hearts' Tomas Kancelskis, cautioned for persistent fouling, was in a similar position, and both teams sensibly withdrew those players at the interval.
Diamond, it should be added, had human error to thank for not being sent off rather than any precautionary measure by his manager. Had the referee seen him elbow Velicka in the face, a straight red might well have been shown, and Aberdeen's attempt to fight back from a goal down would have been rendered all the more difficult.
As it was, Diamond stayed, and Aberdeen therefore continued to enjoy numerical advantage in midfield. Their quintet often found Laryea Kingston hard to handle, but the Ghanaian, for all his trickery, could do only so much on his own.
Mainly because of their stranglehold on midfield, Aberdeen continued to look the better side for the first ten minutes or so of the second half, but then, with Michal Pospisil on for the tiring Velicka, Hearts began to assert themselves. A second goal would surely have settled the matter, and Ibrahim Tall came close to getting it with a header from a corner some ten minutes before the end. Jamie Langfield then did well to block a rasping drive from Christos Karipidis before managing to hold a return shot from Kingston.
Undaunted by this late assault, Aberdeen remained firm of purpose, and were rewarded in the last minute of normal time. Jamie Smith and Craig Brewster were involved in a break down the right, and the latter found the impressive Michael Hart. He sent a teasing cross deep into the box, and, with Craig Gordon finding it difficult to read the trajectory of the ball, Barry Nicholson dashed in to score from a couple of yards out.
In the ensuing madness, Nicholson, who had been booked not long before for a foul on Kingston, was dismissed for a second yellow card, having taken his shirt off to celebrate. Once play restarted Hearts found time to claim a couple of corners, but they were unable to supply a last-gasp riposte.
Gordon retains hope
HEARTS captain Craig Gordon has refused to give up hope of qualifying for the UEFA Cup despite seeing his side held to a draw by Aberdeen at Tynecastle.
Barry Nicholson's late equaliser cancelled out Andrius Velicka's opener to keep the Pittodrie side four points clear of their nearest rivals in third place in the Premierleague.
But Gordon was defiant, insisting the race for European football is still wide open. He believes Aberdeen have the tougher run-in, with games against Celtic (away) and Rangers (home), while Hearts face Hibs (home) and Kilmarnock (away) in their final two games.
The Hearts goalkeeper said: "They are still only four points clear with six points to play for. We're looking to win our next two games and they have two very difficult games against the Old Firm.
"It's unfortunate we didn't get the win today but there's still a lot to be positive about for the rest of the season for us.
"We have to hope Celtic and Rangers can do us a favour by beating Aberdeen and, if we can win our last two games, we have a very good chance."
Stephen Frail, Hearts' assistant head coach, was also optimistic about his side's chances. He said: "We're very disappointed but, even if we had won, it would still have been out of our hands in terms of getting third spot.
"We just need to make sure we do things properly this week and beat Hibs on Saturday.
"We know we're still in it, we're not where we wanted to be, but we will keep going."
Speaking of the forthcoming Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle, Frail added: "We'll be ready for it. We've got something to play for, they haven't. We need to make sure we're up for it and get the three points."
Hearts are unbeaten in league derbies against Hibs this season but lost at Easter Road in the quarter-finals of the CIS Insurance Cup.
Taken from the Scotsman
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