London Hearts Supporters Club

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

Hearts 2 - 1 Motherwell

ROB ROBERTSON at Tynecastle August 29 2005

IT may be churlish to criticise table-topping Hearts, but they have more deficiencies down their right flank than a badly-performed Fringe show.

At present, any reviewer would give them three out of five stars and until they strengthen at right-back and right-midfield, the five-star reviews will have to wait.

George Burley knows he needs to improve his squad more than anybody. The Tynecastle faithful realise the problem and Vladimir Romanov, after watching his side against Motherwell, will have become aware of it too.

The intriguing question all this throws up surrounds Salius Mikoliunas, who is the first pick on the right side of midfield. In fact, the Lithuanian is the only pick because of a lack of cover in that position.

Does Romanov, who has championed Mikoliunas since he arrived at Tynecastle, have the strength of mind to release funds to pay for a new player to replace his fellow countryman, whom he knows well? If a right-sided midfielder arrives at Tynecastle before the transfer window closes on Wednesday evening, it will show that the new Hearts owner doesn't believe in sentiment. It would also suggest that he is listening to his manager, which should put to bed any rumours of a fall-out between the pair.

If nothing happens, then Burley will be frustrated and Hearts' hopes of at least splitting the Old Firm could prove unfounded.

It's not just Mikoliunas that Hearts need to replace, or at least find cover for. Robbie Neilson, the right-back, is a solid performer but another weak link in the side. He rarely puts a foot wrong but is the only man in the squad who is a natural in the position and that is another problem Burley will want to address.

The Hearts manager made it clear he needed two new players but didn't specify which positions, although to anyone who has seen Hearts this season, it is self-evident.

They have an unbalanced squad with virtually no cover on the right and an embarrassment of riches on the left. On that flank, they have Takis Fyssas, who won Euro 2004 with Greece, and midfielder Rudi Skacel, with cover from Lee Wallace and Jamie McAllister.

"If you look at the Old Firm squads now, there's no comparison," said Burley. "I don't feel we're anything like as strong as them. We're still short of feeling we can compete with them but that remains our target. In saying that, if we can bring in a few more players, who knows?"

Who knows indeed, as Hearts continue to grind out the results. They also travel to bottom club Livingston for the next league game, a match they would expect to win.

Against Motherwell, their 100% record was severely threatened, but they showed great professionalism to grind out a victory. Skacel, easily the Tynecastle club's new cult hero, gave them a first-half lead and Edgaras Jankauskas secured the points. A Richie Foran penalty brought Motherwell back into the game and a few minutes later, Jim Hamilton, the former Hearts player, missed an easy chance to equalise. At the death, it took a world-class Craig Gordon save to stop David Clarkson from netting an equaliser.

The Hearts goalkeeper has been in outstanding form this season and should take his place in the Scotland goal for the World Cup double-headers against Italy and Norway.

"I realise my save from Clarkson was an important one as it came when we were holding on for all three points," said Gordon. "When I got back into the dressing room, my team-mates said that was the first thing I'd had to do all season so I was brought back down to earth quickly.

"Maybe this game against Motherwell was a wee reminder to all of us that we have to keep doing the things that got us up to the top of the league. We performed nowhere near what we are capable of against Motherwell."

That may have been the case but another three points were secured in front of a sell-out Tynecastle crowd. Terry Butcher, the Motherwell manager, will be looking on in envy at the strength of the Hearts squad. He is down to the barebones in terms of squad numbers and when Phil O'Donnell limped off with a groin strain after only 29 minutes, it was the latest set-back he has been forced to endure.

The Fir Park outfit play good football and after leaking goals in recent weeks, put in a decent performance at the back. Their goalkeeper, Graeme Smith, looked assured and is set to make the Fir Park No.1 jersey his own this season.

However, the day belonged to Hearts and the scenes at Tynecastle this season are exciting and vibrant. On match days last season, the ticket booths at the ground were open up until kick-off – you're lucky to get in these days.

Against Motherwell, the match sold out days in advance and the ticket sellers had to be re-employed as flag vendors to keep them busy. The Tynecastle car park was full at least an hour before kick-off and the pubs in Gorgie were full of enthusiastic football fans.

The economic spin-offs for the local economy are huge as the owners at The Diggers, a pub near the ground, will testify. The regulars even toasted the Hibs victory at Ibrox, a sure sign that Hearts supporters believe their club could be the best team in Scotland this season, rather than just Edinburgh.

Saturday may have been short of a five-star performance, but with a couple of new players, the rave reviews could soon be on the way.

Taken from the Herald

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