London Hearts Supporters Club

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George Burley <-auth Simon Buckland auth-> Craig Thomson
[R Foran pen 75]
8 of 021 Rudi Skacel 40 ;Edgaras Jankauskas 70 L SPL H

Gordon keeps Hearts beating

Simon Buckland at Tynecastle
ANOTHER call to the non- believers. One member of the Old Firm will still almost certainly win the Premierleague, but that “almost” is Hearts’ first achievement: nobody can be absolutely convinced any more with a start to the season like this. Played five, won five, scored 15, conceded three, is their 100% record at a time when Rangers and Celtic are not performing to anything like their maximum.

For the first time this season there was an expectation that Hearts would win yesterday, and perhaps that new pressure explains why this was their worst showing of the term. Not that the timing concerned George Burley, the Hearts manager. It may even help him. He met with Vladimir Romanov, the club’s watching owner, at Tynecastle last night with all the evidence he required: if Romanov wants more of this excitement, he will have to invest in more players by Wednesday’s transfer deadline.

“If you look at the Old Firm squads now there’s no comparison, I don’t feel we’re anything like as strong as them,” said Burley. “We’re still short of where I feel we can compete with them, but that remains our target. When I said that six weeks ago, people laughed, but if we can bring in two or three more players, who knows what we can do?” Whether he will get them depends how serious Romanov is about all this. Never mind the Old Firm, Hearts did not even meet their own standards yesterday. Despite establishing a two-goal lead, victory was in doubt until the last kick of the game: David Clarkson’s volley was heading towards goal at pace before Craig Gordon produced a stunning match-winning save to his left. There was no time for the resulting corner.

Hearts were almost ahead in only the second minute, Edgaras Jankauskas playing in Paul Hartley for a chance, but the Scotland midfielder delayed long enough for Graeme Smith to block. Gordon responded by saving a Scott McDonald strike with his legs, but otherwise all the goalkeeping in the opening half was being left to Smith. Without his saving, Motherwell would have been spent long before the interval. Gordon would get his chance later.

On 33 minutes, Robbie Neilson’s low cross from the right found Rudi Skacel who darted towards goal and unleashed a shot that Smith brilliantly turned wide. The Motherwell goalkeeper was unhappy at a lack of first-team opportunities at Rangers, his former club, and looks to have some talent in reserve as his next stop from Jankauskas emphasised again.

The troubling imbalance between the quality Hearts have on the left, Takis Fyssas and the brilliant Skacel, compared to a right flank of the hard-working but limited Robbie Neilson and the limited without even being hard-working Saulius Mikoliunas was becoming a feature of the opening half. Skacel had noticed it, too. He switched sides with perfect timing to connect with a Hartley pass and slide in the opening goal.

Within a minute of his fifth consecutive goal in five Premierleague starts, Skacel went down injured after a collision with Jim Hamilton. As he clutched a leg and the stretcher came on, the Hearts supporters hushed. This is no one-man team, but this is the one man who has been the biggest difference between last year and this. Skacel was carried off, but within seconds had jumped up to his feet to an even bigger cheer than he got for his goal.

Mikoliunas, full of tricks but bringing nothing to the party, was hauled off at half-time for the second week in a row as Hearts sought a second goal. It should have been a short wait. Hartley’s free-kick landed the ball right on Roman Bednar’s head, but he got the finish all wrong. When William Kinniburgh was short with a passback, Smith reprieved him by closing down Bednar, but when the same defender allowed Jankauskas to turn after Fyssas had created the chance, the goalkeeper could do nothing with a shot that crashed in via the underside of the bar. Terry Butcher thumped the top of the dugout in rage.

His mood improved on 75 minutes when Julien Brellier’s clumsy foul on Hamilton resulted in a penalty which Richie Foran, the Motherwell substitute, converted. In their next attack, Motherwell should have levelled. Shaun Fagan’s mishit turned into a decent pass for Hamilton, a Hearts player the last time they threatened the Old Firm in the 1997-98 season, but the old campaigner screwed his effort badly wide. And then came Gordon’ s saving grace.

From a strictly neutral perspective, Motherwell’s late anguish was no bad thing. With the Old Firm having walked it for years, the longer this Hearts run goes on the better. The impossible dream may well end in a wake, but why shouldn’t Hearts think of the championship while they can? That, of course, is assuming they can beat off the growing challenge of Hibs, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen. Scottish football is starting to enjoy itself again.

STAR MAN: Rudi Skacel (Hearts)

Player ratings. Hearts: Gordon 8, Neilson 5, Pressley 6, Webster 7, Fyssas 7, Mikoliunas 3 (Simmons 45min, 6), Hartley 8, Brellier 6, Skacel 9, Bednar 6, Jankauskas 7

Motherwell: G Smith 8, Quinn 5, Craigan 6, Kinniburgh 4, Hammell 6, Fagan 4 (Fitzpatrick 86min, 6), Kerr 6, O’Donnell 5 (Foran 29min, 5), A Smith 6, McDonald 7 (Clarkson 68min, 6), Hamilton 5

Booked: Hammell 77

Referee: C Thomson

Attendance: 16,213

Taken from

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