London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> William Collum
14 of 021 ----- L SPL H

Hearts lack firepower to strike for third

A CONTEST which pitted one immovable force against another ended, predictably, in stalemate, though not before illustrating why both these well organised sides are so difficult to beat. It was an absorbing tactical battle which developed into a physical one, but too much of the play was bogged down in a congested midfield to make the match memorable.
United chose to match the numbers Hearts deploy in midfield and minimise the number of opportunities the home side had to counter-attack. As well as snapping at the heels of their opponents and denying them enough time and space to be creative, United were often the more compact team thanks to the subtle touches of Willo Flood, who found more room to orchestrate the play than anyone in a maroon jersey.

On the other hand, on the occasions when Hearts were able to throw off the shackles, they had the incisive players most likely to win the game. Perhaps the pace of Andrew Driver and the ingenuity of Laryea Kingston were not as much in evidence as the home side would have wished, but the pair still conjured up enough openings to place Lukasz Zaluska's goal under more threat than Janos Balogh's.

If United were the more purposeful outfit for most of the first half, their left-hook of Craig Conway and Paul Dixon, which is potentially capable of delivering a knock-out blow, failed to land enough punches on target. Conway saw plenty of the ball on the touchline and moved into a few threatening positions, but the combination of a solid performance from Robbie Neilson at right-back for Hearts and a few scruffy crosses meant that United lacked real menace in this area.

Hearts, meanwhile, could have led at the interval with a little luck. Driver narrowly missed the target with an excellent turn and shot and Kingston's command of technique and imagination delivered a thrilling pass to the back post which David Obua might have forced over the line from close range.

The introduction of Obua as Hearts' lone striker as a replacement for Christian Nade was not a conspicuous success. Apart from missing some of the most inviting chances in a suffocating game – he also miscued in the second half after Bruno Aguiar had executed a gorgeous pass into the box – Obua didn't hold the ball up well enough.

Nade's withdrawal was one of the main talking points in a match short of goalmouth incident. The big striker made no attempt to play the ball when he clattered into Dixon with a knee-high challenge on the halfway line in front of the two dug-outs. It was a clumsy, senseless lunge which referee Willie Collum punished with a yellow card, though he must have considered red.

Csaba Laszlo was concerned enough by Nade's lack of discipline to immediately hook the centre-forward and play for an hour without an orthodox striker. "A lot of people think I'm a nice guy, that I have understanding for everything," the coach volunteered afterwards. "But I have no understanding for indiscipline. If the referee sees Christian's frustration, it will end up with a red card.That's why I have to protect my team and the other players. I talked with him and he understood. OK, it meant we played sometimes without strikers but maybe we just don't have too many good strikers."

To his credit, Nade apologised to Craig Levein after the match and the United manager was similarly contrite over remarks he made to the Hearts' player which would have been better left unsaid. Though his leg was bruised, Dixon was relieved to walk away unscathed.

Bearing in mind that Deividas Cesnauskis replaced Obua late on and Kingston briefly filled in at centre forward, it's become obvious Laszlo doesn't rate Jamie Mole, who remained on the bench as an unused substitute. For a side pressing for third place in the SPL, it's extraordinary that a club of Hearts' standing should find itself capable of fielding only one orthodox forward.

To his credit, Laszlo has done a first-rate job for the Tynecastle club this season. He's restored consistency of selection and instilled good organisation among largely the same group of players who finished eighth in the SPL last season. What he's not been able to achieve is an element of versatility in how Hearts play. As yet, there's no plan B: so far, 4-5-1 is the only game in town.

Levein, with more than two years tenure at Tannadice, now enjoys more strings to his bow. He could have sent on either Warren Feeney or Roy O'Donovan in the second-half and switched to 4-4-2 in a bid to take all three points.

The United manager, however, remained wary of the threat posed by Hearts on the break, decided discretion was the better part of valour and felt a point secured away from home was fair enough reward. It's true Hearts had far more shots on target than United in this match, but if anything is going to hold Laszlo back from challenging for honours it's the lack of a regular goalscorer in his side.

No player at Tynecastle has contributed more than three this season. In matches as tight as the one which unfolded on Saturday, a forward with composure inside the box can make a world of difference when the opposition know exactly how you're going to play.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Willo Flood (Dundee Utd)

In a match overflowing with midfield players, he was the most diligent and precise influence. With no time to think in the centre of the pitch, Flood's instinctive approach was instrumental in securing a point for United.

Taken from the Scotsman

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