Hearts must retain fighting spirit for Old Firm challenge Tynecastle men need to sort out Ritchie's future if they are to defy those odds of 25-1
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26 Jul 1999
HEARTS may be the bookies' third favourites to lift the Premier League title, but they are at such long-odds it would seem that a minor miracle is needed to help the Tynecastle side wrest the championship away from the Old Firm.
For the good of the Scottish game, it is clear that a challenge to the dominance of Celtic and Rangers is needed, but at a price of 25-1 the bookies obviously think it is unlikely that Hearts, or anyone else for that matter, will be able to sustain a challenge.
Despite that, things seem to be ticking along quite well for Jim Jefferies' team.
He believes his squad, which spent the pre- season in Tuscany, is performing well, but such are the improbables in football that a couple of good results against Fulham and George Graham's Spurs do not give any indication as to how they will perform when the main league business begins.
One of the big questions to be answered is whether international defender Paul Ritchie will remain at the club.
His possible move to Rangers has been talked about for too long and, with Sunderland being mentioned as his latest suitor, it is clear the matter has to be cleared up both for the player's sake and the Hearts supporters.
It is clear that Ritchie is a key player, especially in the three-man defensive formation that manager Jim Jefferies will play this season.
It is a bold system and, against Tottenham, it was Ritchie, Steven Pressley, and Grant Murray who managed to do a reasonable holding job on David Ginola and little Jose Dominquez.
However, as the game progressed, they were stretched and such a system puts a strain on the wing-backs, Steve Fulton and Thomas Flogel, giving them more ground to make up down the flanks.
In the middle, they looked to have good balance through young Scott Severin, who was sitting in with Lee Makel, the link man, and Colin Cameron, playing in the hole behind forwards Leigh Jenkinson and Jose Quitongo.
With injuries to Darren Jackson, Stephane Adam, and Gary McSwegan, and new signing Gary Wales on the bench, Hearts were never going to create too many chances and it was a real mis-match watching Quitongo trying to get any sort of change out of Sol Campbell.
In the first-half the lack of decent front play by Hearts meant there was much more pressure on their midfield, who were pegged back for long spells.
The London club's goals were scrappy.
The first came after a shot by Darren Anderton was deflected into the net by Grant Murray in 35 minutes.
A section of the crowd felt Spurs should have knocked the ball out of play to allow Jenkinson treatment after a clash with Campbell in the build-up to the goal.
However, the incident happened only a few yards from me and the player was in no real physical pain from what looked no more than a slap on the face and the Spurs players had every right to continue.
Their second goal, on the stroke of half-time, came after Dominguez found space in the box before cheekily trying to lob Rousset from an acute angle.
His effort hit the bar and the ball fell to Steffen Iversen, who slotted it home.
Changes were always going to be made and Graham believed that, if he had not brought off defenders Campbell and Mauricio Taricco at half-time, Hearts would have had no chance of getting back into the game.
Believe that if you will.
However, he was right in saying that goalkeeper Ian Walker and his defence made a real mess of trying to deal with a Makel free-kick four minutes after half-time that let Hearts back into the game.
Makel's effort somehow managed to make its way through the wall and Walker looked to have it covered but instead only managed to help it into the net.
One pleasing point for Hearts in the second half was the form of Fulton, who played well and, more importantly, looked very fit.
It was his strong run and cross in 71 minutes that picked out Cameron, whose header went in off the bar with Walker stranded and again badly at fault.
If Hearts are to put in any sort of challenge to the Old Firm, it is vital that they keep showing the same character they did here against Spurs and Fulham, when they also fought back from a two- goal deficit to win 3-2.
HEARTS - Rousset, Pressley, Flogel, Severin, G Murray, Ritchie, Makel, Fulton, Quitongo, Cameron, Jenkinson.
Substitutes - McKenzie, James, Locke, Leclercq, Wales, Kirk, Holmes.
TOTTENHAM - Walker, Carr, Taricco, Campbell, Perry, Anderton, Iversen, Gower, Ginola, Young, Dominguez.
Substitutes - Bearsden, King, Edinburgh, Nielsen, Fox, Scales.
Referee - G Stott.