|Report Index--> 2005-06--> All for 20050924|
|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 24 Sep 2005 Hearts 1 Rangers 0||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|George Burley||<-auth||Paul Kiddie||auth->||Kenny Clark|
|35||of 049||Roman Bednar 14||L SPL||H|
Walk on the wide side in Gorgie
IT'S one thing talking the talk and quite another to actually walk the walk.
On too many previous occasions against the Old Firm, Hearts have been guilty of saying all the right things prior to games only to let themselves down when it came to producing the goods out on the park.
Not this time, however.
These are changed days down Gorgie way and with seven straight wins in the SPL already tucked under their belts, the Jambos were rightly confident ahead of the showdown against champions Rangers.
Despite the fact they hadn't defeated Saturday's opponents at Tynecastle for more than seven years, there was a distinct feeling in the home dressing-room that this was going to be their day. And they didn't disappoint. Many of those outwith the Hearts camp had been quietly expecting the visit of Alex McLeish's side to throw a spoke into the wheels of the Jambos' juggernaut.
But those who doubted the league leaders' ability to stand up and trade punches with the best underestimated the qualities possessed by George Burley's side which has become the first team outwith the Old Firm to win their first eight league games since the inception of the premier division.
Roman Bednar broke the deadlock after just 14 minutes with an excellent header from Paul Hartley's inswinging corner and the home side never looked like relinquishing that advantage as they matched a 91-year-old club record with a confident, resolute performance.
Maybe now the cynics who raised eyebrows and sniggered at Vladimir Romanov's bold assertion that Hearts could break the Old Firm stranglehold on the top flight will be starting to form a different opinion. Champions League? Nobody's laughing now. Burley's boys stormed a formidable 11 points clear of the Ibrox outfit thanks to their narrow win and there was little in Rangers' display to suggest they will be capable of overhauling that deficit without a major transformation of form.
The Jambos actually went eight points ahead at the top for a couple of hours on Saturday, Celtic's comeback victory over Inverness Caley Thistle at Parkhead reducing that gap to five.
The Tynecastle manager has refused, publicly at least, to entertain thoughts of his side bringing home the league championship for the first time since 1960. On Friday he conceded to the Evening News that he still regarded Rangers as favourites for the title. While he could be forgiven reconsidering his thoughts on both counts, even if just for a fanciful minute or two, little appears to have changed in the opinion of the former Ipswich and Derby boss.
"I said before the match that nothing would be decided on Saturday and Rangers will be right up there at the end of the season," said the Hearts chief.
"But to win eight games on the trot in any league is a magnificent achievement. Team work got us through on Saturday. It wasn't a classic but we showed we are well organised, solid, can defend and score.
"I didn't learn anything new about my players as I know they are all prepared to work hard for each other."
This Hearts team does indeed appear to be the real deal and whether they can last the course in the race for the league flag could ultimately depend on how lucky they are with injuries - and Romanov's inclination to spend again on the opening of the January transfer window.
Their lack of depth in the squad was exposed in last week's shock CIS Cup exit at the hands of struggling Livingston when Takis Fyssas, Julien Brellier, Bednar and Edgar Jankauskas were all sidelined at Almondvale. The quartet were passed fit to start against Rangers but within 32 minutes Burley's game plan had been thrown into disarray with goalscorer Bednar and Fyssas both limping out of the action.
Jamie McAllister, unfortunate to miss out in the first place, came in at left-back with Stephen Simmons deployed up front with Czech Bednar's knee problem a real concern for his manager.
"There's no doubt the injuries to two key players disrupted us as we had been playing some good stuff before they went off and Roman had scored a good goal," he said. "The players had to show character after that but that is what they have done all season. We have a group of players who may not always play at their best but will be hard to beat."
The champions certainly found that out at Tynecastle, with the hosts' rearguard once again proving a formidable hurdle to overcome. Burley may have brought in a host of foreign talent but the Scots at the back - Craig Gordon, Steven Pressley, Andy Webster and the under-rated Robbie Neilson - have been in magnificent form throughout the opening eight league matches, Hearts having conceded just four goals in that time.
Gordon had one of his quietest afternoons against the Old Firm, the Scotland keeper having just the one save of note to make when he dived to his left to push Dado Prso's header behind for a corner after 28 minutes.
Bednar could have doubled his side's advantage four minutes after his opener, the striker failing to hit the target with a header after Rudi Skacel had picked him out at the back post with a tempting cross from the left. He was badly missed after failing to recover from a tackle by Marvin Andrews in the 23rd minute and two minutes later Skacel came close to making it eight goals in eight consecutive SPL games when his turn and shot whistled narrowly past Ronald Waterreus' right-hand post.
The home side should have had a penalty 60 seconds later when Julien Rodriguez clearly pushed Simmons in the box but Kenny Clark set the tone for spot-kick appeals by ignoring the hosts' claims. He would later miss Paul Hartley's self-confessed trip on Barry Ferguson after the break and then, crucially, allowed Neilson's 89th-minute hand ball from Francis Jeffers' net-bound shot to go unpunished.
"I couldn't move out of the road," said the right-back. "He fired it right at me and I think I was fortunate my hands were down by my side."
Perhaps it was some form of justice for Hearts after the dramatic penalty award which robbed the Jambos of a point the last time the teams met in Gorgie. Be that as it may but Hearts fully merited maximum points from a game they bossed for the vast majority of the time and the victory sent out a clear message to the rest of the SPL - they will not be easily shifted from their lofty position.
Fans need only look at last season's final league table to see the incredible improvement which has transformed Burley's side into credible title challengers, the Jambos having trailed in a distant 43 points behind champions Rangers in May.
There was a football memorabilia shop in Gorgie Road selling T-shirts on Saturday which proclaimed: "2005-2006 BELIEVE!"
It will be doing a roaring trade in the weeks ahead.
Taken from the Scotsman
|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 24 Sep 2005 Hearts 1 Rangers 0||Team->||Page->|