London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Valdas Ivanauskas <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Charlie Richmond
Hartley Paul [S Kean 19] ;[S Kean 22]
10 of 015 Saulius Mikoliunas 1 ;Marius Zaliukas 51 L SPL A

Romanov the sinner after Saints add to Tynecastle woes


ST MIRREN 2 kean (19, 21)

HEARTS 2 Mikoliunas (1) Zaliukas (51)

WHEN he first bought into Hearts, Vladimir Romanov outlined his vision of a club competing in the upper echelons of European football. A couple of years on, the Tynecastle side are only just inside the upper half of a mediocre SPL.

That gulf between the dream and the reality has widened with every passing week this season. This was the Edinburgh side's ninth consecutive game without a win - against opponents who have themselves now failed to record a victory in their last seven matches - and, while it was an improvement in some respects on previous weeks, it was another example of serious underachievement.

Hearts may have a richly talented squad, but as a team they have hardly played two decent games back to back since the spring. Where Craig Levein moulded men of modest ability into a fiercely competitive team which managed two third-placed finishes, Valdas Ivanauskas appears unable to find a winning blend from far more promising ingredients.

The current head coach should not shoulder all or even most of the blame for this failure. In this, his first match after a month's sick leave, Ivanauskas did at least get Hearts playing some proper passing football again, which was a welcome change from the crude long-ball game favoured by his stand-in, Eduard Malofeev. And there was, for most of the match at least, a palpable sense of purpose about the side.

But the problem, and the reason why Ivanauskas is on a hiding to nothing, is that whenever something goes right, Romanov ensures something else will go wrong. The opening 20 minutes or so of this match were an example, when the spirited start which saw Saulius Mikoliunas give the visitors the lead with an excellent volleyed finish from a cross by Edgaras Jankauskas was undone by serious shortcomings in defence which allowed St Mirren to carve out several good chances before Stewart Kean eventually struck twice.

The striker's first goal came from a John Sutton knock-back following a free-kick into the box, and his second two minutes later was a free shot on goal after the visitors' defence had again been cut open. Ivanauskas at least rectified the problem by replacing Christophe Berra with Marius Zaliukas, but the situation would surely not have arisen had Steven Pressley been selected instead of frozen out.

The dwindling band of Romanov apologists among the Hearts support may tell themselves Pressley is past his best, but he remains by some way their most experienced defender, and his value lies as much in his organisational abilities as in his individual play.

The fact Kean had to go off with a thigh strain shortly after putting his team ahead also helped the Hearts defence regain composure. Tony Bullock was the busier goalkeeper for the rest of the half, and although he saved well from an Ibrahim Tall header he was actually beaten twice more before the break.

Andrius Velicka should have equalised with a header from a Paul Hartley free-kick just minutes from half-time, and certainly had he been on target Bullock could have done nothing to prevent it from hitting the back of the net. Some time before that, the striker did have the ball in the net with a shot from the rebound off a Mikoliunas effort, but he was ruled offside.

Hearts remained in the ascendancy when the second half began. Zaliukas equalised with a header from a Hartley free-kick, then Jankauskas slid in to meet a Velicka cross only to see his effort come back off the bar. St Mirren's approach work was impressive, but, apart from a Simon Lappin shot which Craig Gordon saved comfortably, their ability to create scoring chances appeared to have deserted them.

Then, with 15 minutes to go, Hartley was sent off for a second bookable offence. Although he was playing with greater drive and hunger than he has displayed for a while, Hartley also displayed the indiscipline he often shows when exasperated.

Having picked up a needless booking in the first half for a foul on Hugh Murray, he should have been extra careful thereafter, but instead, another futile offence on the same player ended his part in the game. Hartley, the vice-captain, will therefore be out of action through suspension, thus joining Pressley on the sidelines. Two down, one of the Riccarton Three to go. Gordon, the third man in question, was offered the captain's armband by Hartley but insisted it go to Robbie Neilson instead.

With the quality at their disposal, Hearts should beat teams such as St Mirren more often than not. Just as the recruitment of most of that quality is down to one man, so in the end is the failure to make the most of it.

Taken from the Scotsman

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