London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> Calum Murray
21 of 023 ----- L SPL H

Little ventured and nothing gained in derby stalemate

SINCE neither of the Edinburgh clubs would pretend to be the finished article – there's a bluntness about Hearts' work in front of goal which only the arrival of a sharper arrow in attack will rectify, while the lack of an experienced playmaker in midfield continues to hinder Hibernian – perhaps it was inevitable the capital derby should produce flashes of excitement rather than passages of sustained quality.
If both Edinburgh clubs departed Tynecastle knowing there was scope for improvement when the sides meet again on Sunday in a Homecoming Scottish Cup tie at Easter Road, they would also be consoled by the omission of defensive howlers in a fixture where errors can be just as crucial as sparks of creativity in settling the outcome. It was a contest where both sides defended well enough to snuff out the ambitions of their opponents.

Consequently, there was precious little to choose between the sides, although Hearts pressed the game more in the final third and struck more shots on and off target. While he played well enough with his back to goal and used his strength to hold the ball up – important assets for any lone target man – Christian Nade did nothing to enhance his reputation as a natural finisher. True, he twice struck woodwork, with a well placed shot and a glancing head flick, but when his big moment came, the Hearts centre-forward fluffed the opportunity.

Deividas Cesnauskis had executed a shrewd one-two from the touchline which enabled Robbie Neilson to sprint down the right and deliver a cross that was deflected to Nade at the back post. True, Chris Hogg as well as Yves Makalambay still had to be beaten, but the striker was only ten yards from goal.

In what would prove to be as clear-cut a chance as would come Hearts' way, Nade's body position was at the wrong angle when he launched his right boot at the ball and scooped the chance high and wide. It was a clumsy miss.

On a day when Hearts' best moments came from glimpses of the target rather than clear sightings – Gary Glen's thrilling run and shot which scraped the bar and Larry Kingston's driven low shot which Yves Makalambay finger-tipped round the post – it was, in the end, the lack of a forward blessed with what Csaba Laszlo calls "killer instinct" which ensured the spoils were shared.

No one scored more goals for Hearts than John Robertson, but even the club's most prodigious finisher might have found it difficult to be so prolific in the current outfit. The 4-5-1 system used by Laszlo to maximise the strengths of the players at his disposal requires specialist understanding in certain positions which can be awkward to duplicate when first choices are absent. While outstanding performances from Christophe Berra and Eggert Jonsson made light of those missing at the back, it was a different story elsewhere.

The loss of the injured Bruno Aguiar, who plays in the 'hole' behind the striker, left Michael Stewart looking neither fish nor fowl. When Nade came short, he didn't go beyond the striker or make penetrating runs into the box. The best thing that happened to Stewart, and Hearts, was the enforced positional switch which followed Jason Thomson's concussion. With Christos Karipidis, who made light of an ankle injury, retreating to centre-half and Jonsson switching to left-back, Stewart was able to fill his preferred role in central midfield. Unsurprisingly, he looked a much more composed player in this deeper position and Hearts were a better balanced side after Glen came on to support Nade.

This was no adverse reflection on Thomson, incidentally, a young defender previously deployed at right-back rather than left, who looked promising. Faced with the challenge of marking Jonatan Johansson on his debut for Hibs, the 21-year-old was more than equal to the task before sustaining a head knock in a clash with David Van Zanten. In fact, one of the positive features of this derby was how well the full-backs played on both sides. After a breathless start to the game in which Andrew Driver threatened to emerge as Hearts' matchwinner, Van Zanten found the turn of pace required to subdue the young winger, who was rarely seen to such good effect in the second-half.

Left-back would never be Ian Murray's preferred position, but he too brought sufficient passion and strength to his play to handcuff Kingston and counter-attack in his own right. This worked to such an extent the Ghanaian was replaced by Cesnauskis early in the second-half. By the same token, for Hearts, Robbie Nilsson and the versatile Jonsson, who switched to left back after starting the game at centre-half, all but nullified the fairly muted threat of Johansson and Alan O'Brien on the flanks.

After conceding four goals to Kilmarnock last weekend, the areas where Hibs might have been found wanting against Hearts – at centre-back and in goal – turned out to be assets. In the absence of the injured Rob Jones, Steven Thicot and Chris Hogg formed a steady partnership in the middle of the defence while Makalambay's handling was error free. The goalkeeper's concentration was much improved, he pulled off a couple of excellent saves and struck up a reassuring understanding with his centre-backs. If the signing of Grzegorz Szamotulski inspires the Belgian to play at this level for the rest of the season, then Mixu Paatelainen will be content.

There was also welcome protection for the back four from Souleymane Bamba, who added steel to the midfield and played a necessary part in breaking up the momentum of Hearts' approach play. The only negative for the visitors in this area was that too much creative responsibility was left on young Lewis Stevenson's shoulders. Fielding a four man midfield which featured two wingers and a defender, it was hardly surprising Hibs often played second fiddle in this area.

That said, the normally reliable Steven Fletcher neglected a couple of chances to win the game. He looked off balance when shooting wide in the first half and could have done better near the end than drive straight at Janos Balogh from the six-yard line. As for the opportunity which came Derek Riordan's way, it was snuffed out by a sliding interception from the tireless Jonsson.

As was to be expected from the home side, Hearts had slightly more possession and might feel hitting the woodwork three times was evidence of misfortune. Laszlo speculated the game could have finished 10-5 or 6-4 in Hearts' favour, but that was sheer fantasy. The reality is Hearts haven't scored any goals in their last three games and just eight in ten. Whoever leaves Tynecastle this month, only the arrival of a forward with an eye for goal will improve the side.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Eggert Jonsson (Hearts)

In a derby where the best players on both sides were defenders – Sol Bamba and Yves Makalambay were key men for Hibs – the young Icelandic player shaded the accolade on the strength of his versatility. He started at centre-back before switching to left back, and was outstanding in both positions.

Taken from the Scotsman

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