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Stevenson Ryan [J Russell 2] ;[W Flood 62] ;[M Gardyne 89]
17 of 025 Michael Ngoo 76L SPL A

Dundee United 3 Hearts 1: All in good time, Johnny

Stewart Fisher
Sports Writer
Monday 11 February 2013

IF Gordon Strachan is true to his word about picking in-form players for his Scotland squad then Johnny Russell just made an early case for his inclusion in the double-header against Wales and Serbia.Early being the operative word.

Having scored in just 16 seconds against Rangers in the Scottish Cup last week, it took him 120 to pave the way for this 3-1 win against Hearts, as Jackie McNamara's minor tweaks since arriving as manager continue to elevate the excellent squad he inherited from Peter Houston. "I must have been slacking off a bit," Russell said, jokingly.

He would go on to lay the second on for another stand-out performer in Willo Flood, and generally run the show prior to the late goal by substitute Michael Gardyne which eventually broke the brave resistance of Hearts' young side which played 65 minutes with 10 men.

In less than a fortnight working with his new manager, the 22-year-old already feels his game has benefited, not least from interaction with two experts of the striking art in Darren Jackson and Simon Donnelly. "They have given me a huge lift and given me my belief back and I am extremely grateful for that," said Russell. "Darren Jackson and Simon Donnelly worked a lot with the strikers last week and attackers of their quality will only help improve my game."

Russell's goal on Saturday was his 17th of another productive season, which is already in excess of his pre-season target of 15. But there is just no pleasing some people. "I feel I should be in the 20s in terms of goals this season at least especially with the chances that the boys create for me," he said. "I have been very inconsistent and have maybe had a good game followed by three perfor-mances nowhere near the standard I set myself. I have always said I need to find that consistency and the new manager has given me that wee boost. Jackie has made wee subtle changes here and there and all the boys have reacted well to it."

Although Steven Fletcher, Jordan Rhodes and Kenny Miller create a formidable strike trio to contend with, Russell is at least entitled to be in the national conversation. "It is every boys' dream to play for their country and hopefully that will come for me in the future," he said. "I still have a lot to learn to make my game better but I feel I am at that standard."

As for Hearts, after Willie Collum's dismissal of Ryan Stevenson for a tackle after just 25 minutes which even the victim, Gary Mackay-Steven, thought was "harsh", the Gorgie side were left calling in vain for more common sense from the match officials. Perhaps Sepp Blatter, when he arrives in Edinburgh this week, could do something about it. But don't bet on it.

"Maybe referees need to step back and see how the incident pans out," said Darren Barr. "Players want to win the ball. Ryan has done that and there is no malice or intent to deliberately hurt his opponent."

It will be scant consolation for the Gorgie club but there was also further evidence of their resilience with 10 men, and what a find they have in on-loan Liverpool striker Michael Ngoo, who struck the bar twice with glorious long- range shots and fired a fine goal which briefly gave them a lifeline. It is United, however, who are really on the up and it should be instructive when their coaching trio returns to an old stomping ground in the East End of Glasgow this weekend.

Taken from the Herald

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