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<-Page <-Team Thu 21 Oct 2004 Feyenoord 3 Hearts 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Craig Levein <-auth Paul Kiddie auth-> Tonny Kolbech Poulsen
[D Kuyt 22] ;[B Goor 58] ;[D Kuyt 83]
22 of 025 ----- E A

Dutch brilliance proves Kuip de grace for Hearts

Paul Kiddie

HEARTS had their first whiff of the rarified atmosphere of the UEFA Cup group stages in Rotterdam - and were left gasping at the quality of Feyenoord.

The Jambos battled valiantly to contain the Dutch giants in the De Kuip but found that there is no substitute for class.

Ruud Gullit’s side, winners of the UEFA Cup just two years ago, were simply too good for the Tynecastle outfit, the 3-0 victory a fair reflection on the balance of play in the Group A opener.

The trip to Holland was always going to be a huge test for Levein’s men, who found circumstances conspiring against them both before and during the match.

Mark de Vries had travelled in the vain hope of recovering from a poisoned toe but flew back to Scotland on the morning of the game for more hospital treatment in a bid to have him available for Sunday’s derby against Hibs.

As the big day approached, Levein had probably resigned himself to having to do without the talismanic front man whose two goals against Braga in Portugal in the last round took Hearts through to the money-spinning group stages. But he wouldn’t have bargained on his midfield being shorn of the considerable presence of Phil Stamp, the Englishman having been laid low by a sickness bug yesterday.

His predicament opened the door for Joe Hamill, whose confident display was one of the plus points for Levein on a night his players experienced at first hand the difference between the SPL and the cream of Europe.

To have had any chance of snatching something from their trip to Rotterdam, the Jambos needed to be at full-strength and on top of their game. As it was, neither box was ticked and they could have no complaints about the final result. Their attempt, though, to cause a major upset wasn’t helped by two ridiculous offside decisions.

The visitors, with Kevin McKenna handed the unenviable task as the lone striker on his first start of the season, had weathered the expected early onslaught from Gullit’s side - Craig Gordon was called into action after just 25 seconds to save Dirk Kuijt’s shot. But they saw their good work undone in the 21st minute by a blunder from assistant referee Bo Blankholm Pedersen.

The official failed to spot Karim Saidi at least two yards offside in the six-yard box as Patrick Paauwe sent a cross from the right swinging into the area, the full-back clearly interfering with play as he challenged Robbie Neilson for the ball which was met by the head of Kuijt at the back post who finished well to break the deadlock.

There must have been a feeling of deja vu for the Jambos, who fell behind at Celtic Park on Saturday after another dubious offside call.

Eight minutes from the break and it became evident it wasn’t going to be Hearts’ day when stand-side assistant Jens Larsen flagged for offside against Paul Hartley after McKenna had drilled a low shot under the body of keeper Gabor Babos. Again it was another poor decision from the official, with the midfielder running away from goal and Levein was quick to tell the referee as much at the end of the game.

"I don’t have too many complaints apart from the couple of decisions which didn’t go our way," said the Hearts boss afterwards. "To get anything from a match as tough as this one we probably would have needed most of the decisions to be in our favour. The first goal was offside and our goal was clearly onside. These things can make a difference but whether we would have won the match is another thing.

"I talked to the referee at the end of the game and asked him to watch the television and acknowledge the fact that his assistants had made mistakes.

"It was typical of the type of things that can happen. It is annoying to know we had a perfectly good goal disallowed and that their first goal was offside.

"I was disappointed with the referee’s performance. It is easy to prepare yourself for the quality of opposition but it is difficult to prepare yourself for the quality of referee. Having said that I don’t want to make a big thing about it as there is no doubt that Feyenoord deserved to win the match. They are a good side with very good players and will score goals against most teams."

Such was the quality of this lightning-quick Feyenoord side, though, that even had both calls gone Hearts’ way, it is debatable if the Jambos had sufficient firepower to threaten a shock.

As much as they supplied their typically honest endeavour throughout the 90 minutes, they had no one to match the sheer class of Kuijt, Salomon Kalou, Romeo Castelen and Bart Goor.

Hearts could well have fallen behind before Kuijt’s opener, with Kalou having a sixth-minute effort ruled out for offside, and Andy Webster having to clear off the line from Pascal Bosschart.

To his credit, Levein, who celebrates his 40th birthday today, changed things before the interval replacing Neil MacFarlane with Graham Weir to try to force an equaliser with two up front.

In the 53rd minute, the diminutive striker went down under a challenge from Saidi in the box, referee Poulsen waving aside claims for a spot-kick. It was looking a bit more encouraging for Hearts in the early stages of the second half but the game was effectively killed off as the hour mark approached.

The superb Kalou split the Jambos defence with a superb pass and Goor was on to it in a flash to hold off Neilson and clip a delightful finish past the advancing Gordon.

McKenna had the chance to throw his side a lifeline in the 61st minute when Neilson’s cross picked him out in great position but instead of going for goal himself the Canadian opted the head the ball back across the box and the opportunity was lost.

Levein threw caution to the wind for the last 20 minutes when he brought on Dennis Wyness and put three up front. But it was the hosts who nearly stretched their lead, Gordon pulling off a magnificent save to tip over Kuijt’s drive, the Dutch internationalist applauding the youngster’s stop. Hamill had a chance seconds later but blasted wide and seven minutes from time Feyenoord completed a straight-forward victory with another fine finish from Kuijt after a cross from Goor.

"We didn’t expect an easy night but were all disappointed with the result," said Levein.

"We knew it was going to be an extremely difficult task to take even a point from the game. When the draw was made we realised that getting anything here was going to be our toughest test. I knew the players would work extremely hard and the second goal came at a time in the game when I thought we were doing reasonably well. The lads gave everything they had but it wasn’t to be."

Gullit felt some sympathy for Levein over the offside calls but insisted his team deserved to take the three points.

"I can understand Hearts’ feelings at the two decisions but sometimes they go for you and sometimes they don’t," he said. "We scored a goal earlier in the game which shouldn’t have been disallowed and overall I thought we played better than Hearts and deserved to win the game."

Better teams than Hearts will take a heavy beating in the De Kuip and losing to the Dutch first division leaders is no disgrace. The experience will stand them in good stead for the remaining group games over the next few weeks as their Euro adventure continues.

For now, though, it is back to the bread and butter of the league on Sunday, with the players having to find the energy from somewhere to cope with an in-form Hibs side.

Taken from the Scotsman

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