London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Sat 31 Jan 2009 Hamilton Academical 2 Hearts 0 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Barry Anderson auth-> Eddie Smith
[S Mensing 11] ;[S Mensing pen 51]
30 of 039 ----- L SPL A

Race on for Romanov to fill Hearts' gap

PERHAPS it was best Vladimir Romanov attended New Douglas Park on Saturday. Seeing Hearts capitulate so meekly against Hamilton on his first sojourn to Scotland this season must surely motivate the majority shareholder to recruit a proven striker before the transfer window closes. Replacing Christophe Berra's leadership qualities should also be a matter of urgency.

For months, Csaba Laszlo has extolled qualities such as tactical discipline and resolute defending. These attributes, by and large, have allowed Hearts to mount a European challenge which might have been beyond expectations when the manager arrived. Talking bluntly, Laszlo has delivered his end of the bargain. Emphatically. Now Romanov must do likewise.

Berra drove south to join Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday morning and with him went a considerable chunk of Hearts' on-field inspiration. Eggert Jonsson partnered Marius Zaliukas in his absence against Hamilton but the visitors' defence looked unconvincing without Berra's marshalling skills. Moves have been made for Falkirk's Darren Barr, a capable replacement, in recent days but it remains to be seen if a transfer materialises.

Regardless of that eventuality, Romanov's priority must be a forward. Laszlo has stuck rigidly to a 4-4-1-1 formation since taking charge at Tynecastle and, with so few attacking options, he now seems frightened to deviate. Not until seven minutes from time on Saturday did he introduce an extra striker – Calum Elliot – to the fray having previously swapped like for like, with Larry Kingston replacing Bruno Aguiar and Christian Nade making way for Gary Glen. Facing a two-goal deficit, the delay seemed bizarre.

Perhaps it was a thinly-veiled message to Romanov, Sergejus Fedotovas and Anatoli Korobochka in the stand. Selling Berra has secured funds for squad reinforcement and the manager is craving a striker worthy of the name. Romanov, though, refused to say whether a new forward or a new Berra will be forthcoming today.

"We were offered a big price for Berra so we took it, otherwise he would have been stolen by someone else later," said the Russian-born banker. "If it's right for us there might be more business done. I have spoken with the manager about this. We have a strong team and are getting stronger. We are not weakening it. Will we get a replacement for Berra? Possibly.

"It is always difficult for a club to lose its captain, but Berra deserves his move to England. He has done very well for us and I am glad he is being treated well after good service to Hearts. It is much better for us to lose a player in return for money than seeing Steven Pressley, for example, leave the club for nothing. The sale of Berra was required but we are not planning to sell any others before the transfer window closes.

"I expect more players will move on during the summer and that will allow young players to come in and grow and the club can move forward. I would like to see as many players as possible coming through our academy. This would keep the arrival of experienced foreign players to a minimum and keep our costs down. Three years ago we had a lot of players coming from other clubs and countries. Now it is up to us to bring players through from the academy."

Suggestions of interest from Coventry in Andy Driver also received a vague response, although the winger is not likely to leave in any case. "We have not received a satisfactory offer for Driver but we have been discussing the player with them," said Romanov.

The lack of forwards has meant Aguiar assuming increasing responsibility since returning from injury. In the attacking midfield berth behind Nade, he represents Hearts' biggest goal threat. Recognising and countering this was the catalyst in Hamilton's victory. Captain Alex Neil utilised his effective man-marking skills to subdue the Portuguese playmaker and, in the process, nullify the opposition's most potent weapon.

From kick-off he was all over Aguiar like the proverbial rash, although Hearts were entitled to question why referee Eddie Smith did not penalise some of his more robust challenges on their No.8. They would also have wondered why handling offences by both Richard Offiong and Jonsson went unpunished in the build-up to Hamilton's opener, a glancing header from Simon Mensing from Brian Easton's cross. Tomas Cerny, the Hamilton goalkeeper, blocked Michael Stewart's volley from point-blank range shortly after the interval, and soon after Mensing scored his second via the penalty spot. Robbie Neilson was judged to have fouled James McCarthy, although contact appeared to take place outside the 18-yard box. Mensing didn't waste the opportunity to drive the ball beyond Jamie MacDonald.

Billy Reid fittingly offered his post-match synopsis against the backdrop of a Reid's Furniture advertising board. He has furnished the Lanarkshire club with relentless ambition and discipline over the last four years and, after five consecutive league victories, is a no-brainer for manager of the month. This win ended a 19-game losing sequence against Hearts dating back to season 1979/80.

"The game plan was to stop Hearts playing in the middle of the park and we did that. Over the 90 minutes we deserved it," he said. "That's five home wins on the bounce and it's credit to the players. We worked hard to change our formation. I've said before that we're not looking down, we're looking at the teams above us."

Laszlo admitted Berra's departure just hours before kick-off had had an unsettling effect. "It was a little bit unlucky for the team to know that Berra is not in the team and that we have to change everything, but that is football," he said. "I always protect my players. It is not easy to lose the captain so directly before the game. I think now you can see what importance it had. I personally am happy for Berra to move maybe to a better league and team and I hope he makes his way and I wish him all the best. Now we must look to find a way back, which we have done before.

"This was a football game in which I thought we had the possibility to score goals. This was a game decided by two standard situations. The penalty was very unlucky and afterwards it was very hard to come back and push the spirit a little bit higher. We tried but it was not enough."

Taken from the Scotsman

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