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Jim Jefferies 2nd <-auth auth-> Stephen Finnie
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Hearts 0 - 0 Dundee United: Stuffy United kill off Hearts' bid to snatch late European spot

Published Date: 06 May 2010
HEARTS' hopes of claiming a place in European football were effectively dashed last night when they could not break down a defiant and typically well-organised Dundee United.
Jim Jefferies' team remain three points behind Hibs after their remarkable draw against Motherwell, but their Edinburgh rivals' goal difference is superior to the extent that even a Hearts win against Celtic on Sunday combined with a United victory over Hibs is highly unlikely to secure even fifth spot – a position where European qualification depends on the outcome of the Scottish Cup final.

Hearts played with the same desire they had shown at Easter Road four days earlier, but were up against a physically tougher outfit than Hibs and were also without two of their most influential players from that 2-1 win in match-winner David Obua and midfielder Laryea Kingston, both of whom were ruled out by suspension.

Ryan Stevenson moved up front in place of Obua, Ismael Bouzid returned to the defence, Ruben Palazuelos moved from the back four to midfield and Calum Elliot started in place of Gary Glen.

United, for whom Morgaro Gomis was suspended, persisted with their policy of giving game time to all of their squad as preparation for the Scottish Cup final and made six changes to their starting line-up from the weekend defeat by Rangers. Former Hearts goalkeeper Steve Banks came in for a first league start, Andy Webster also returned to face his old club. Scott Robertson and Craig Conway were back in midfield, and the first-choice strike force of Jon Daly and David Goodwillie were back as well.

It was Daly to whom the first chance fell, from a Conway free-kick, but the striker looked surprised that the ball had got to him through a cluster of defenders and could do no more than direct it tamely towards Jamie MacDonald. At the other end, a one-two down the left between Lee Wallace and David Templeton saw the former send a low cross into the six-yard box, where Elliot glanced it wide off the outside of his boot.

Although Hearts had most of the early pressure, they looked shaky midway through the half when United forced two corners in quick succession, the second coming after a fumble by MacDonald at the near post. The goalkeeper dealt with that one cleanly, however, and initiated a swift break up the left. Templeton took the ball on and moved infield, but he was unable to keep his balance and as a result his shot went harmlessly wide.

With half an hour gone, Daly had another scoring chance from a Conway free-kick out on the left, and this time he made good contact only to see his header deflected wide for a corner. That was cleared, but moments later Conway himself had a double opportunity to score when put through by Goodwillie, but first Bouzid blocked his shot and then MacDonald smothered the rebound.

Yet another Conway free-kick was then headed in by Webster, but the referee had already blown for an offence. The threat posed by the winger's deliveries was there for all to see, but, creative as Conway was throughout the first half, the single most impressive instant in it was a low curling ball sent 40 yards up the left touchline from his own half by Templeton. Elliot controlled it and passed to Stevenson, but Garry Kenneth intercepted.

Webster, who had taken a knock, was replaced by Danny Swanson for the second half, with David Robertson dropping back into defence. Hearts soon made a change too, taking Ian Black off, bringing Gordon Smith on up front and putting Stevenson back into midfield.

By that time the home team had had a credible penalty claim turned down when Kenneth made contact with Elliot as the striker tried to reach a cross. For their part, United continued to be dangerous, and Goodwillie pulled a shot wide after twisting clear of Marius Zaliukas.

Smith soon showed his fellow-striker how to get a shot on target when the ball broke to him following a Suso run, but Banks got down to his right to tip the effort past the post.

The match remained keenly contested to the end but Hearts could not force the breakthrough they needed.

Hearts: MacDonald, Jonsson, Bouzid, Zaliukas, Wallace, Suso (J Thomson 78), Palazuelos, Black (Smith 54), Templeton, Stevenson (Glen 78), Elliot. Subs not used: Lyness, Kucharski, C Thomson, Novikovas.

Dundee United: Banks, Dillon, Webster (Swanson 46) Kenneth, Watson, Conway, S Robertson (Myrie-Williams 72), Buaben, D Robertson, Daly, Goodwillie (Shala 58). Subs not used: Pernis, Casalinuovo, Dow, Hill.

Taken from the Scotsman

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