|Report Index--> 2006-07--> All for 20061202
|Sat 02 Dec 2006 St Mirren 2 Hearts 2
|Scotsman ------ Report
|[S Kean 19] ;[S Kean 22]
|Saulius Mikoliunas 1 ;Marius Zaliukas 51
Hearts stars crave Elvis comeback
St Mirren 2
STEVEN PRESSLEY might have been an absentee, but the certitude and desire which typifies his approach to football is still evident within the Hearts players. The mind can only wonder at what they might have achieved with their captain present and correct in Paisley.
Suspended by the club for having the temerity to speak out against management techniques, Pressley's Hearts career is drawing to a saddening close.
In his infamous media statement of October 27, he mentioned that the possible return of Valdas Ivanauskas from sick leave was irrelevant to the problems behind the walls of Riccarton. In that respect, he has been proved thoroughly correct.
The 33-year-old was omitted from Saturday's squad despite being fully fit and available for selection. His absence prompted Fraser Wishart to take the virtually unprecedented step of speaking out after this match in condemnation of club policy at Tynecastle.
Wishart, a union representative of the SPFA, is believed to have accompanied Pressley in to Thursday's fateful meeting with Pedro Lopez, after which the defender was told "not to bother turning up" for training the following day.
That meant he didn't appear at Love Street either. However, his colleagues put any uncertainty of their own aside for the afternoon to deliver an ardent performance.
For the record, nor was there any sign of majority shareholder Vladimir Romanov, chairman Roman Romanov, or anyone else who may have been capable of answering the surfeit of questions which hang on the lips of everyone connected with Hearts.
Ivanauskas, it appears, has no control over the fate of his players no matter how vital he might consider any of them in a footballing sense. If they dare to cross Romanov, as the Riccarton Three did with their statement, they will ultimately pay the price.
And having sacrificed Pressley, Hearts suffered retribution of sorts at the weekend as St Mirren twice punctured a fragile central defence in a three-minute period in the first half.
"All season long we have had turmoil so I think the boys have got used to that," said Edgaras Jankauskas. "The news [of Pressley's absence] affected the team, of course, but we had no choice. We had to stay professional and continue to prepare ourselves. We all expect Steven back in the team as it was a surprise to all of us that he was absent."
That last sentence in itself seemed out of place if, as believed, certain Lithuanian players in the Hearts camp were party to plans to depose Pressley as club captain last month.
"I can assure you that none of the Lithuanians were involved in any plot," continued Jankauskas. "They are quite young players and I don't think some of them can even understand what has gone on. We were not involved in that plot. It upsets me and the rest of the Lithuanians. I think it is not right to be judged just because you are born in Lithuania or any other country.
"It doesn't matter whether you are black, white, or you are born in Senegal, France or Lithuania. We all do the same job and these comments upset us."
More than attempting to remove any supposed blame from his countrymen, two of whom scored to secure a point for Hearts, Jankauskas gave his full backing to Pressley. "I would say Steven was speaking on behalf of me when he made his statement because he said we needed stability. Whether it's Scottish players or Lithuanian players, we need stability.
"There was significant unrest in the dressing room, as Steven said. When things like this are going on it affects the Lithuanian players more than anyone because we get more stick from the public."
Those in the away end at Love Street were distinctly subdued while goals by two of Hearts' most castigated Lithuanians, Saulius Mikoliunas and Marius Zaliukas, ultimately proved vital. Ironically, the visitors had hinted at a return to prosperity in Ivanauskas' first match back in control of team affairs. Jankauskas' ball in from the left flank was converted by Mikoliunas after only 19 seconds of play. The winger looked suspiciously offside but that could not detract from a well-taken stabbing of the ball past the advancing Tony Bullock.
St Mirren's response saw Simon Lappin shoot over when he found himself in plenty of space inside Craig Gordon's penalty area, then Stewart Kean hit a potent shot only for Gordon to brilliantly divert it away.
Jankauskas and Andrius Velicka then combined quite breathtakingly in the 13th minute, Jankauskas flicking the ball on to his compatriot and then accepting the return pass which put him through to face goalkeeper Tony Bullock, but the Englishman creditably held the goalbound effort.
Gus MacPherson was becoming slightly anxious in the home dugout, but his players' attempts to restore parity bore justice after 19 minutes when Kean scored his first goal since his decisive strike at Tynecastle in September. Andy Millen's free-kick from the left glanced the head of Kirk Broadfoot and the ball bounced loose at the feet of John Sutton before Kean drove it high into the net.
Two minutes later the striker doubled the damage after Brady had meandered through the Hearts rearguard to slip him the ball for a composed finish.
With Pressley absent, his organisational qualities were being missed in the most excruciating way, and Christophe Berra, who protested vociferously to referee Charlie Richmond for a foul in the build-up to Kean's second goal, then found himself strangely replaced by Zaliukas despite the fact that it was Ibrahim Tall who looked more culpable in relation to both goals.
Mikoliunas went on a powerful run and the Lithuanian's raking left-footed effort at the end of it required to be parried by Bullock, and although Velicka dispatched the rebound he was ajudged offside.
It was frustration in the Hearts camp that was now more apparent, with Neil McCann involved in a few face-to-face altercations with opposing players.
The visiting winger was cautioned after one confrontation with St Mirren's David van Zanten, and the wing-back later had his name added to referee Richmond's book.
By the break, Ivanauskas' side were looking slightly ragged. Inspiration arrived shortly after the restart with Zaliukas' first goal for the club. Paul Hartley, captain in Pressley's absence, responded to taunts of "Hartley, Hartley, what's the score?" from the home support by curling a free-kick for the unmarked Lithuanian to head the equaliser. Celebrating in typical cheeky-chappie fashion, Hartley danced down the touchline, right in front of St Mirren's fans. McCann was suffering some particularly rough on-field treatment, as is the norm for a Greenock boy in Paisley. But the hostility was having an invigorating effect on Hearts as a team. As the second half wore on the visitors' attitude and application, qualities Pressley himself would have attempted to instill, became evermore notable, although it has to be said that MacPherson's side matched them stride for stride.
Neilson's ball down the right was well salvaged by Velicka near the byline, and his first-time cross was knocked against the crossbar by Jankauskas.
The simmering disdain on the pitch erupted on 75 minutes when Hartley became the seventh Hearts player this season to be red carded. The midfielder was dismissed for a second bookable offence - both fouls on Murray. He offered the captain's armband to Gordon on his way off, but the goalkeeper refused it. Hartley then hurled the armband at Neilson.
But the reduction to ten men had no blunting effect on the desire on Hearts. They pushed forward during the latter stages and may have had a penalty when Velicka tumbled in the home penalty area under a Murray tackle. Richmond waved away strong claims, but seconds later Bruno Aguiar was strangely booked and a free-kick given for a similar challenge on Lappin at the opposite end.
When fate is conspiring against you, your influence is minimal. The industrious Hearts players may have felt that way on Saturday. Steven Pressley certainly would have.
Taken from the Scotsman
|Sat 02 Dec 2006 St Mirren 2 Hearts 2