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|<-Page||<-Team||Sat 27 Mar 2004 Hearts 3 Dundee 1||Team->||Page->|
|<-Srce||<-Type||Scotsman ------ Report||Type->||Srce->|
|Craig Levein||<-auth||Paul Kiddie||auth->||Hugh Dallas|
|[S Milne 8]|
|7||of 008||Paul Hartley 52 ;Steven Pressley pen 59 ;Joe Hamill 67||L SPL||H|
Levein pep talk sets tone for a stirring second half
HEARTS 3-1 DUNDEE
PAUL KIDDIE AT TYNECASTLE
THE visit of Dundee to Tynecastle saw a high school band from Alabama provide some alternative pre-match entertainment - and it was Hearts who also hit the right notes to edge closer to a return to Europe.
The musicians have flown in from the United States for Edinburgh’s Easter Festival and while their efforts were appreciated by the supporters, the home fans were happier at seeing the Jambos finally find their rhythm after an off-key first half.
Craig Levein has ensured that Tynecastle has become a formidable ground for opposing teams, the Gorgie outfit having established an impressive home league record in recent seasons.
Saturday’s visitors, in fact, were the last team outwith the Old Firm to leave the Capital with maximum points and that was some 20 months ago.
The proud record, though, looked to be in jeopardy as the Dark Blues threatened to repeat that upset after Steven Milne capitalised on defensive errors to slot home the opener with just seven minutes on the clock.
The loss of the goal certainly rocked the home side and only good defending from Alan Maybury and Patrick Kisnorbo prevented the dangerous Milne from getting another shot on target just after the quarter-hour mark.
The hosts’ best effort in a disappointing opening 45 minutes came from the head of Kevin McKenna - the Canadian was again used in attack in the enforced absence of Mark de Vries - when he sent an effort wide of Julian Speroni’s right-hand post from Robbie Neilson’s cross.
Jim Duffy’s injury-hit side looked more than capable of adding to their advantage in the first half, Steven Pressley coming to his side’s rescue in the 39th minute with a goalline clearance after Steve Lovell had latched onto a Mark Fotheringham pass before rounding Craig Gordon at his near post.
It was clear the Jambos would have to lift their game after the break if they were to entertain hopes of consolidating their third place in the table and Levein’s half-time pep talk certainly had the desired effect with Hearts having stormed into lead within 13 minutes of the turnaround.
The hosts levelled the match after 52 minutes. Neilson’s long throw was headed into the path of Paul Hartley by McKenna and his rasping angled drive was net-bound all the way despite a desperate attempt by Dave McKay to keep it out.
Six minutes later and the Jambos had snatched the initiative from the penalty spot.
Phil Stamp played in McKenna and the emergency striker was sent tumbling in the area by Fotheringham, Pressley stepping up to send Speroni the wrong way with a confident conversion.
The writing was on the wall for the Dens Parkers at this stage and Duffy had Speroni to thank for keeping Dundee in the game with a superb save from Stamp with 64 minutes on the clock.
Two minutes later, though, and the game was finished as a contest with Joe Hamill netting his first league goal for the Gorgie outfit. Neilson’s throw was headed on by Douglas Cameron into the path of Dennis Wyness and the hero against Rangers a fortnight earlier turned provider on this occasion as he rolled the ball back for Hamill to slide home No.3 from eight yards out.
Wyness then had a shot on the turn well saved by Speroni as the game moved to its inevitable conclusion and with nearest rivals Dunfermline having to settle for a draw at Livingston, Levein’s men now boast a commanding ten-point lead in the race for Europe with just nine games remaining.
"We have nine games left to play and are ten points clear and I think double figures is a significant amount," said Levein.
"We have to play the teams around about us as well as going to Celtic Park next week and I think there is still a little bit of work to be done before we can start thinking we have made the European spot our own.
"It was a very lethargic first half. I thought we started reasonably well, had a couple of opportunities to score and then against the run of play Dundee scored. We got caught. They have great pace up front and we found ourselves sucked towards the ball. Elvis lost a header and Patrick (Kisnorbo) got pulled towards the ball and out of the back line. Of course, the ball then got played straight back in and it was a difficult thing to defend against as we started with a very straight back four line, but within two touches that was disrupted and the most vulnerable part, the centre, was missing.
"That really put us on the back foot for most of the first half and we didn’t really look like we were going to score but I was pleased with the second half and the victory."
The match was played out against a background of the now customary chants against Chris Robinson and his board of directors over the proposal to sell Tynecastle and move to Murrayfield.
Despite the chief executive’s apparent upbeat message in his programme notes over the plan to move in with the Scottish Rugby Union for next season, Saturday’s protest organised by the Save Our Hearts campaign once again underlined the fact that most supporters don’t share his optimism and enthusiasm for the switch. With thousands of posters declaring: "This Board is Killing Our Hearts" having been distributed to fans prior to the kick-off, supporters were urged to brandish them at 3.30pm and again an hour later.
Hardly ideal circumstances for the players to try to remain focused against Dundee, but the unified response from the vast majority of the Gorgie faithful in the crowd of 10,491 certainly sent out a crystal clear message to those running the club.
And as long as Robinson remains in charge, the Murrayfield issue is not going to go away.
While trying to keep themselves detached from the ongoing off-field controversy it is clear such protests don’t make the players’ jobs any easier, a fact which makes the Jambos achievements thus far all the more commendable.
"These things have been going on for a while now and I have to give the players enormous credit," said Levein.
"There is stuff going on off the park just now which cannot be influenced by myself or the players. I can only concentrate on coaching and the players on playing so that when this situation does resolve itself in whatever way, the football team is sitting in the best position possible.
"If I didn’t do that and the players didn’t do that, then we wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly."
With one foot now firmly in Europe, that’s not a complaint which can be levelled at Levein or his players.
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