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John McGlynn <-auth Hugh Macdonald auth-> Craig Thomson
[K Watson 57]
15 of 021 Ryan Stevenson 15 ;Ryan Stevenson pen 31L SPL H

Hearts 2 Dundee United 1

: Home side move into top six as elements and opponents fail to dampen their spirits
Hugh Macdonald
Chief Sports Writer

A WATERY sun hinted at something hopeful en route to Gorgie.

Reality immediately asserted itself with a horizontal rain shower that would have cut down a Cossack cavalry charge.

Thus was the yin and yang of an Edinburgh Sunday subsequently replicated inside Tynecastle, as Hearts found a measure of optimism by moving into the Clydesdale Bank Premier League's top six with a narrow victory but still face the continued hail of transfer embargoes, salary controversies and financial uncertainty.

Two first-half goals from Ryan Stevenson gave the home side three points as Rudi Skacel's return to Tynecastle was marked by an ovation from the home fans but also by one of the performances from the Czech that bordered on the anonymous. It was ironic that his only telling contribution to the game was a mis-hit shot that ran to Keith Watson, who scored a goal to give Dundee United a hope that was to be unfulfilled.

The match was played at a brisk pace, for all save a relaxed Skacel, but this was a night when inactivity was in danger of being punished by hypothermia and the play was more about physical movement than artistry.

The goals were all scruffy, if solidly finished, speaking to a match where a soft pitch, a swirling wind and a tension of two teams who have under-achieved this season combined to produce moments of crude action but almost nothing in measured play.

The first goal epitomised the value of the type of physique that dominated. A header from Dylan McGowan soared into the box to John Sutton who held off Gavin Gunning and the ball ran to Stevenson to shoot home.

The theme of physicality continued almost unabated.

Almost immediately, United could have equalised when Jon Daly lunged to connect with a Barry Douglas free kick only to watch Jamie Macdonald claw away the ball but only to Brian McLean, who hit a post from close range.

The first piece of sublime play was introduced by Stuart Armstrong whose clever, pacy run was halted by a crude challenge that gave United a free kick but almost also led to a second goal for Hearts when they broke quickly from the blocked set piece. Keith Watson set up Andrew Driver for a cross that could not find Sutton.

The goal was only delayed, however. Ryan McGowan's long throw was aimed at his brother Dylan, who was pulled down by Willo Flood. Stevenson despatched the penalty past Radoslaw Cierzniak.

With a two-goal lead, Hearts were braced for a second-half onslaught from a United side paying the price for the sort of defending that has marked their season. Flood immediately threw in a cross that McLean headed over in a rehearsal for a succession of similar ploys from both wings that were thwarted by resilient play in the centre of the Hearts defence.

There was a brief respite for the home side when they chose to mark the 51st minute with an incursion on the United goal. This was also the precise moment when the Tynecastle support were paying homage to Skacel, the wearer of No.51 in recognition of the 2012 William Hill Scottish Cup final result. The roars for Skacel were not augmented by further celebration as Driver's free kick could not find a maroon shirt in a packed penalty area.

It was the returning hero's sclaffed shot that turned the Hearts cheers to groans. The Czech's mis-hit inside the area ran to Watson, who shot smartly past Macdonald.

This prompted a feisty Hearts response and Gordon Smith missed a fine chance from close in before choosing to shoot rather than play in a team-mate. His blocked effort elicited a massed groan of disappointment that also was a product of increased nervousness among the ranks of the home support.

They were invigorated by an Andy Webster volley and passages of play that should have been rewarded by better efforts than an Andy Driver diving header that almost left the winger with a skint nose.

It fell to the technically proficient Johnny Russell to show this was a night when might was right. The Dundee United forward was through on goal in the final moments but shot over the bar – his skill and poise deserting him as they had so many others, perhaps forgivably given the conditions.

The watery sun had long since gone to bed but a brightness did remain. John McGlynn spoke of the prospect of overcoming Hibernian while Stevenson, the two-goal hero, talked about how the bonus payments or non-payments were not an issue with the players.

It was left for Peter Houston, the Dundee United manager, to supply the bleakness.

"I am really gutted that we got nothing from the match because we played some good stuff. The team that played the better football lost," he said. He may just have had a point. His team left without any.

Taken from the Herald

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