Cool heads rule at Hearts
By Roddy Forsyth
Now that Heart of Midlothian fans are getting used to seeing their club dominate the Scottish sporting headlines - and it will be some time before the novelty wears off - their players are becoming adept at kicking mischievous stories out of the park.
When George Burley was sacked abruptly last Saturday morning and told he would not be required to oversee the team for the game against Dunfermline, despite his offer to do so, certain first-team players decided to make a point by penning slogans on their T-shirts in support of the departed manager.
These they duly displayed after the final whistle - the slogan reading "For the Gaffer" - despite the presence of the club's principal shareholder, Vladimir Romanov, whose differences of opinion with Burley had been crucial to his dismissal. Romanov made it clear this week that he did not have any difficulty with what the players had done but hinted that he felt they may have been incited by others outside the club.
The issue was duly raised at yesterday's pre-match briefing for the eagerly awaited collision between the Scottish league leaders and third-placed Hibernian at Easter Road, the second Edinburgh derby of the season and one which sees the protagonists going into battle as two of Scotland's form teams.
Paul Hartley, the Hearts and Scotland midfield player and one of those who sported the raiments of protest, dismissed the matter, saying: "I get on fine with Mr Romanov. I've spoken to him in the last few days and we don't have a problem.
"Rudi Skacel and I decided to put the T-shirts on as a mark of respect for the manager. It was nothing to do with Mr Romanov and he had no problems with it. Certainly, I'm happy here and I'm sure the other guys are as well."
Hartley - who missed Wednesday's 1-0 home victory over Kilmarnock - returns to the side, along with captain Steven Pressley, who was suspended in midweek. Despite teasing hints by the Tynecastle chief executive, Phil Anderton, that Hearts might have a new manager in place today, the players will again be under the guidance of first-team coach John McGlynn.
Meanwhile, Hartley's Scotland colleague Gary Caldwell, who will face him tomorrow from the centre of the Hibs defence, insisted that the green half of Edinburgh had begun to nurture title aspirations. "We want to win the league," Caldwell said. "We're not shouting our mouths off but we are trying to win as many games as we can."
To add to the fun, Hearts chairman George Foulkes declared this week that the Scottish championship had become a two-horse race between his club and second-placed Celtic.
Gordon Strachan, the Celtic manager, whose team meet full strength Dundee United at Tannadice tomorrow, retorted: "George Foulkes? Who's he?" He added: "I've been a while in football but if George says that, I'll go along with him. All due respect, but there will be four teams going for the title."
How Alex McLeish must wish that his former Aberdeen clubmate could be sure of that prediction. Now 11 points behind Hearts and in a dismal fourth place, Rangers face Inverness Cale-donian Thistle at Ibrox, aware that they have run out of margin for error.
McLeish insists he is up for the fight. "Pressure and criticism is something you have to deal with as Rangers manager and I won't let it get me down," he said. "I'm convinced we can turn it."
Taken from telegraph.co.uk