London Hearts Supporters Club

Report Index--> 2006-07--> All for 20061202
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<-Srce <-Type Sunday Herald ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth None auth-> Charlie Richmond
Hartley Paul [S Kean 19] ;[S Kean 22]
4 of 015 Saulius Mikoliunas 1 ;Marius Zaliukas 51 L SPL A

Passing the responsibility

THE CAPTAIN'S armband at Hearts is football's equivalent of the black spot. With Steven Pressley suspended indefinitely by the increasingly erratic Tynecastle regime, Paul Hartley took over against St Mirren yesterday and was sent off in the second half. Cue further black comedy.

With Christophe Berra, who captained the side against Falkirk last month having been substituted midway through the first half, Hartley moved to give the armband to Craig Gordon, who reacted like it was the plague. Thus Robbie Neilson, who is no longer sure of a regular place, ended the match as captain. Next week it could be the club mascot.

Once again there was a wall of silence regarding the latest Hearts farce, and it was left to SPFA secretary Fraser Wishart to issue a statement strongly condemning the "wholly unjustified" treatment of Pressley and hinting at the possibility of legal action.

"The SPFA has long been concerned about the unorthodox managerial and employment practices at the club," pointed out Wishart, who added that these were affecting the personal welfare of Hearts players.

When, in the aftermath of a 2-2 draw with St Mirren, Lithuanian striker Edgaras Jankauskas spoke of the psychological effects of all the turmoil and the effect it was having on performances, it was confirmation that even those closest to the regime are bewildered by its actions.

Neither Vladimir Romanov, the architect of the shambles, nor his spokesman were at the game and club officials have been gagged. A statement on the Pressley situation, the very least the fans deserve, is expected today or tomorrow, but then again don't hold your breath.

In the circumstances it was going to take something extraordinary to divert attention away from the off-field shenanigans as the game kicked off with the Hearts fans chanting for Pressley, but that's exactly what happened.

In an irony many of the visiting fans would not have found delicious, the player whose near constant presence in the side sums up Romanov's meddling opened the scoring in only 20 seconds.

It was a Lithuanian one-two as a high ball into the St Mirren box from Jankauskas found Saulius Mikoliunas alone, unmarked, but onside. Tony Bullock should perhaps have come out to challenge for the ball, but he didn't and the Hearts midfielder stunned the home crowd by putting his side ahead.

That was merely the introduction for an opening 25 minutes which brought three goals, three excellent saves, two substitutions and a booking for Hartley which was to prove significant.

Indeed, the score could have been 2-2 after only five minutes. Andrius Velicka, yet another Lithuanian and a prolific scorer in recent weeks, had a header saved by Bullock, but if that was excusable there was a shocking miss by Simon Lappin at the other end a minute later when the midfielder lost his composure completely and blasted a simple chance over the bar.

Gordon could only look in disbelief at that, but seconds later the goalkeeper made an outstanding save from Stewart Kean, who was returning to the St Mirren side. The Scotland player has rescued his side time and again this season, and he was at it once more in the eighth minute with another fantastic block from a Kirk Broadfoot header, although, as it transpired, the defender committed an infringement just before the attempt.

This frantic activity in the Hearts box only underlined the folly of alienating Pressley, with both Ibraham Tall and Berra being discomfited by the sharp play of Kean and John Sutton. Although Bullock made a good save from Velicka, the home side looked the more impressive and deservedly equalised in the 19th minute. The ageless Andy Millen floated a free kick into the Hearts box which predictably caused problems, Sutton got a touch on and Kean scored.

If that satisfied a home crowd alarmed by their side's descent down the league table, they were ecstatic two minutes later when St Mirren scored again. This time Gary Brady was the provider and Kean, again, shot low across Gordon to put Gus McPherson's side ahead.

Just in case there wasn't enough to keep the crowd intrigued, both sides had to make changes to personnel. In what was a big blow to Saints, double scorer Kean pulled up with a thigh strain and had to be replaced by Billy Mehmet; simultaneously Valdas Ivanauskas took off Berra for tactical reasons and replaced him with Marius Zaliukas.

That marked a brief lull, but in the 37th minute there was further controversy when Mikoliunas drove through the middle and fired in an excellent shot which Bullock could only parry to Velicka who was certain he had scored as he wheeled away in celebration. But an offside flag deprived him of the goal.

The earlier substitutions were working in Hearts' favour as the St Mirren attack was blunted, and with a thoroughly entertaining first half drawing to a close there was good fortune for the home side when first Jankauskas, and then Velicka, scorned terrific chances.

There was no doubt Hearts were worth their equaliser when it arrived in the 50th minute. Again it was a player that many Gorgie fans have reservations about, but the first-half change made by Ivanauskas was vindicated when Zaliukas scored his first goal for the club following a Hartley free-kick.

The visitors continued to have the best of the second half, but that came to an abrupt end in the 74th minute when Hartley, who was booked in the first half for a foul on Hugh Murray, brought the same player down with a late challenge.

It was, however, the softest of contacts and the Scotland midfielder could count himself unfortunate to have collected a second yellow which saw him banished from the pitch.

Taken from the Sunday Herald

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