London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2004-05--> All for 20050430
<-Page <-Team Sat 30 Apr 2005 Hearts 0 Motherwell 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
John Robertson <-auth Paul Kiddie auth-> Iain Brines
12 of 019 ----- L SPL H

Steel barrier slams euro bid shut



A SLICE of luck here, a decision there and Hearts’ European story could have had a different outcome. This particular tale, though, did not have a happy ending.

It wasn’t a task which would have stretched the renowned fire-fighting qualities of Red Adair, but the flickering embers of Hearts’ European dreams have finally been extinguished.

The scenario which many supporters had been slowly resigning themselves to eventually came to pass with the Tynecastle stalemate against Motherwell, a team which has done more than most this season to undermine the Jambos’ efforts to retain third place in the SPL for an unprecedented third year in a row.

The Steelmen completed a remarkable unbeaten run against their Gorgie opponents on Saturday, the 0-0 draw Hearts’ first morsel of success against Terry Butcher’s side in five attempts in the current campaign. With Hibs repeating the Jambos’ shock victory over Celtic at Parkhead, John Robertson’s men now trail their arch rivals in third place by ten points with just three matches remaining.

But it wasn’t just the combination of results at the weekend which scuppered Hearts’ valiant bid for UEFA Cup qualification.

In many respects, the Tynecastle side have been their own worst enemy in failing to grab the initiative in the race for Europe since the turn of the year.

The loss to Inverness at Tynecastle in March was a huge disappointment, albeit there were mitigating circumstances with the squad decimated by a flu virus. However, more recent defeats at home to Hibs and away to relegation-threatened Dundee United were severe blows from which they never recovered.

There now remains nothing but pride to play for in the remaining games, with the pursuit of fourth-placed Aberdeen the sole target.

"We now have to look to finish as high up the league as possible," said Robertson, "and we will be looking to win every game between now and the end of the season."

That, of course, will be a tall order with a trip to Ibrox followed by the visit of Celtic before a meeting with the Dons at Pittodrie in the last league match of the season.

Robbo’s Hearts, though, have already shown they can mix it with the best having stunned the Hoops at Parkhead at the start of last month and been hugely unfortunate not to take anything from two games with Rangers.

Inconsistency is a source of major frustration for many a manager and it is no different at Tynecastle.

As good a coach as Robertson may be - he underlined his ability with that famous win over Celtic and the UEFA Cup triumph against Basle in Switzerland - he faced an unenviable task in picking up the reins at such a critical time of the season following Craig Levein’s exit for Leicester City in October.

He had to hit the ground running both on the domestic and European fronts while at the same time trying to stamp his own style of play on the team.

That would have been difficult enough at the club where he achieved legendary status as a player but it also had to be done against the backdrop of dramatic off-field events, Lithuanian millionaire Vladimir Romanov having replaced Chris Robinson as owner.

The loss of key players such as Alan Maybury and Mark de Vries to Leicester did not help matters and while Robbo guided Hearts to the semi-finals of the CIS and Scottish Cups, the team lacked the consistency which had been evident in past seasons.

Saturday was another example of this, with the home side failing to make the most of their possession and again struggling to cope with Motherwell’s energetic style.

It doesn’t make pleasant reading for Hearts fans but that’s 360 minutes of SPL action this season in which the Jambos have failed to find the back of the net against the Steelmen, Motherwell’s defence having kept the Jambos’ strike force at bay in their three previous victories.

The hosts rarely looked like losing at the weekend but when they looked like winning, veteran keeper Gordon Marshall was in inspired form.

Having been heavily criticised for some recent displays between the posts, the son of the former Hearts No.1 ensured some domestic debate with a superb performance at Tynecastle.

His handling was wonderful throughout and one save in particular from Saulius Mikoliunas’ header eight minutes from the interval defied belief, the big goalie getting down brilliantly to his right to prevent the ball crossing the line.

Too often the home side picked the wrong option in the final third of the park, Mark Burchill’s early shot into the side netting when a cutback to the unmarked Paul Hartley could well have brought more reward a prime example.

Despite having the better of the first half, the hosts were fortunate to be level at half-time, Richie Foran seeing his 45th-minute penalty come off the outside of Craig Gordon’s left-hand post after assistant referee Steve Pullar decreed that Andy Webster’s hand ball had occurred inside the box.

Despite Mikoliunas looking more like himself, Hearts could not find a way past Marshall, while at the other end chances were equally few and far between.

A stalemate was therefore no big surprise, although Robertson was satisfied with most of what he saw from his players.

He said: "I thought we played well and that some of our link-up play and passing was excellent at times. The only thing which let us down was our final pass and when we did get the quality of delivery we ran into big Gord0n Marshall again.

"He has done it all season to us. He produced four or five good saves and one unbelievable stop from Mikoliunas which everybody thought was behind him. He stood between us and the three points. We had a lot of the ball and the better of the chances but we didn’t put the ball in the back of the net and that’s what wins you games."

Butcher was delighted to continue his excellent record against his Gorgie counterpart, although conceded the home side should have been in a better position by the break. "Hearts had a good spell in the first half and could and should have gone ahead," he said. "We weathered the storm and while it wasn’t the prettiest that’s four clean sheets against Hearts in the league this season."

Reflecting on the final chapter of Hearts’ Euro bid, Robertson added: "Not taking our chances when we have been on top has been the story of the last few weeks."

Taken from the Scotsman

<-Page <-Team Sat 30 Apr 2005 Hearts 0 Motherwell 0 Team-> Page->
| Home | Contact Us | Credits | © 2005 |