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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Keith Stroud
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A gilmmer of optimism for Hearts

Published Date: 30 July 2009
Plymouth 0 - 0 Hearts
DEFENSIVE improvement was essential for Hearts following Saturday's capitulation against Southampton, and last night at Home Park the players followed Csaba Laszlo's instructions to the letter. Leaving aside any attacking insufficiencies, the resolve which characterised much of Laszlo's first season was a welcome sight against Paul Sturrock's Plymouth Argyle.
In fact, it underpinned what was overall Hearts' finest performance of their pre-season preparations. Following a day of incessant rain in the west country, a slithery surface seemed conducive only to defensive erring. Yet Ismael Bouzid, Dawid Kucharski and, in turn, Marius Zaliukas coped admirably with the underfoot conditions to keep their opponents at bay.

Ahead of them was a more cohesive midfield unit anchored by Michael Stewart and Ian Black, providing Laszlo with a reliable spine for his new-look team. They controlled the second half consummately and stroked the ball around with the kind of ease that allows a manager to relax. A goal would have completed a fine evening's work, but it was little wonder the Hungarian was content nonetheless, particularly in light of the sloppiness which infiltrated Hearts' game at St Mary's.

"It was very important to have a clean sheet," said Laszlo. "Maybe there were one or two mistakes at the back but we played with Kucharski and Ismael Bouzid. They were not bad. Then came Marius Zaliukas with Ismael, I think it was a very good second half in central defence with the understanding. They won every ball in the air. I think in central defence we now have the stabilisation.

"We must go one step forward in the midfield. Andy Driver is out for six weeks. We have Suso and David Obua free from injury in the wide areas. Ruben Palazuelos was injured last night and I think Ian Black must find the rhythm that we play. It is a little bit different to what he played before and it is different tactics. But he is making a good development.

"Now it is a question about up front. I think we had maybe one or two possibilities but there was not the skill or the power we need. Christian Nade played almost 70 minutes and slowly he will be ready for 90 minutes, but he was too alone up front. Larry Kingston is also not so far on at the moment and he can't go for 90 minutes. I think if we think about two or three weeks ago, now you can see there was a team on the field. They do not have 100 per cent harmony but you can see the work we have done in the last couple of weeks."

The 97 travelling fans in the 4177 crowd were denied instant glimpses of Portuguese trialists Joao Moreira and Zezinando as they started on the substitutes' bench. Nade was deployed in attack, supported by Kingston, in a bid to accelerate his match fitness following hernia surgery. There were no shortage of recognisable faces amongst the home ranks with David McNamee, Jim Paterson, Chris Clark and Steven MacLean all harbouring SPL experience. There was also the first sighting of recent signing Bradley Wright-Phillips for the Home Park natives.

The game's first incident of note arrived on 14 minutes when Wright-Phillips fell in the penalty area under Black's challenge, however referee Keith Stroud saw no infringement. This was a far more aggressive Hearts than the side which surrendered at St Mary's on Saturday. Their pressing gameplan made it difficult for Plymouth to strike any real rhythm while counter-attacks were conducted with pace and a hint of panache. However the majority of first-half ball possession belonged to Plymouth.

On 22 minutes, Jamie MacDonald was pressed into action and produced a stupendous one-handed save from Wright-Phillips. The striker connected first time with Jason Puncheon's right-sided cross and the goalkeeper's reactions further underlined his case for a regular first-team place. Wright-Phillips threatened again seconds before half-time, using some intricate footwork to twist away from two markers, however he was met with a precisely-timed Kucharski tackle 12 yards from goal. Nade had looked occasionally useful as a lone striker but chasers for his flick-ons were conspicuous by their absence.

Hearts' first shot on target arrived shortly after the restart when Black dispatched a powerful 20-yard volley into the arms of Plymouth goalkeeper Romain Larrieu.

With David Witteveen having replaced Kingston, whose close control was suspect throughout his 55 minutes, reverting to an orthodox two-man attack imbued Hearts with more purpose going forward. When Zezinando replaced Nade for his first outing as a trialist, Witteveen became a lone striker and again seemed isolated too often.

Plymouth substitute Rory Fallon tested Marian Kello twice after the Slovakian had kicked two balls carelessly out of his 18-yard box. Then came the game's most flowing move as Zezinando came within centimetres of a debut goal. Witteveen released an intelligent ball out to Eggert Jonsson, who sprinted forward from right-back to send a low cross into the path of Zezinando. The diminutive Portuguese tried to slide the ball beyond Larrieu first time but could not connect, leaving Krisztian Timar to clear.

There was no debating the fact Hearts had monopolised possession during the second half. Their energy levels remained high and even seemed to increase into the final ten minutes. Goals remain elusive for now, but last night's signs were nothing if not encouraging.

Plymouth Argyle (4-1-3-2): Larrieu; McNamee, Timar, Seip, Sawyer; Fletcher; Arnason, Puncheon, Paterson; Puncheon; Wright-Phillips, MacLean. Subs: Duguid 67 (for Paterson), Clark 60 (for Arnason), Fallon 57 (for Puncheon), Noone 78 (for MacLean). .

Hearts (4-4-1-1): MacDonald, Jonsson, Bouzid, Kucharski, Goncalves; Suso, Black, M Stewart, Obua; Kingston; Nade. Subs: Balogh, Wallace, Zaliukas 46 (for Kucharski), C Thomson, J Stewart 62 (for Black), McGowan, Glen 88 (for Obua), Witteveen 55 (for Kingston), Novikovas 75 (for Suso), Moreira, Zezinando 69 (for Nade), Kello 46 (for MacDonald)..

Referee: Keith Stroud.

Attendance: 4177.

Taken from the Scotsman

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