London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Anatoly Korobochka <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> Craig Mackay
Tall Ibrahim [B Robson 51] ;[N Hunt 60] ;[B Robson 70] ;[B Robson 78] David [4] Robertson
9 of 010 ----- L SPL H

Dressing-room factions and inept tactics leave Hearts in turmoil


THIS was supposed to be League of Nations day at Tynecastle, with 8,000 flags of different countries distributed in the stands celebrating the multi-cultural identity of a squad with 18 nationalities. Instead, the match will be remembered as one where the white flag of surrender was hoisted on the pitch by a Hearts side which suffered its heaviest defeat to Dundee United in more than a quarter of a century.

Never was the absence of strong management at Tynecastle more keenly felt than in this travesty of a performance. Lacking any collective passion for the cause, a combination of inept tactics and shoddy individual performances produced an embarrassing collapse.

While it would be wrong to detract either from the sterling work Craig Levein has put in with Dundee United since taking over as manager or the ebullient man-of-the-match display from Barry Robson, the truth was Hearts fell on their own sword in this game and might have lost by an even wider margin.

According to Stephen Frail, the assistant coach whose duty it was to explain such an appalling performance, the factionalism which divides the dressing room along lines of nationality has taken its toll on the fighting spirit that once typified the football club.

"We have a group of players who sit and talk and eat together - but all in their nationalities, and it's wrong," said Frail. "We have eight or nine Lithuanians who all sit together; the Scottish guys, young or old, sit together; and then we've a table of Europeans. If you don't talk to your team-mates, will you go out on the pitch and die for them?"

Frail's acknowledgement of the internal divisions at Hearts only confirms suspicions of disunity at Tynecastle. Before joining Celtic, former captain Steve Pressley spoke of "significant unrest" and was supported by Paul Hartley and Craig Gordon. Hartley has subsequently joined Celtic, and Gordon's days with the club are surely numbered.

When the young captain left the pitch at the end of this ignominious 90 minutes he was challenged by a supporter about what had happened to the heart of the team. The goalkeeper reacted by taking off the captain's armband and tossing it towards the dug-out.

As a Hearts supporter himself as well as by far the most valuable player on the club's books, the truth is Gordon will be just as troubled as those who pay the gate money in Gorgie about the lack of fight in the ranks. Earlier this season, before the departure of Pressley and Hartley, Gordon warned that it couldn't always be left to a minority of players to dig the team out of trouble when set-backs occur. Others needed to stand and up and be counted. The captain's urgings, however, fell on deaf ears.

Following a supine performance at Pittodrie the previous week, the black hole of slackness and indifference which engulfed the team against Dundee United prompted Frail to apologise to the club's supporters afterwards and admit if he'd been a paying customer he too would have joined the thousands who got out of their seats and left the ground long before the end.

"If you don't have the heart for the battle, that's what happens," said the coach. "United's players tried harder, they wanted it more. It was abysmal."

In a frank admission of the team's failings, perhaps the one contentious point made by Frail was the argument that the decision to play with a back three after Ibrahim Tall was sent off didn't have a critical bearing on the outcome.

In fact, the lack of a right-back gifted United the space to score three of their four goals. Tall and United's David Robertson were sent off in the 33rd minute after a clash off the ball. While United re-adjusted by keeping a bank of four in defence and two wide men in midfield, Hearts played on without a right-back in a 3-4-2 formation.

Who knows how much freedom Anatoly Korobochka - the seventh head coach in 25 months of Romanov's reign - has to influence formations and tactics. But this was a costly blunder.

Inevitably, Saulius Mikoliunas didn't get back to fill the gap behind him and United exploited the space with a counter-attack in the 51st minute which began in their own penalty box. A clearance was flicked on by Noel Hunt who found Steve Robb. The winger timed his pass perfectly and Robson ran through to drive the ball under Gordon's body.

United's second goal was the pick of the quartet, Hunt won the ball in the air from Derek Stillie's free-kick and Jon Daly angled a touch to Robson which invited the midfielder to beat Gordon with a low right-foot shot. The third saw Robb saunter in from the left and a fire a low cross which Hunt bulleted into the net at the back post. And the fourth was a solo effort from Robson, who cut in leisurely from the left before firing a low shot into the far corner.

Alex McLeish, the onlooking Scotland manager, must have been impressed by Robson's hat-trick if concerned by the uncertainty surrounding Gordon. This was far from the goalkeeper's finest hour and McLeish must hope that time spent away from Tynecastle in the company of Scotland colleagues will lift his spirits before Saturday's Euro 2008 qualifier against Georgia.

Taken from the Scotsman

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