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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Ray Hepburn auth-> Eddie Smith
17 of 039 Michael Stewart 62 L SPL A

‘Fantastic’ Balogh saves the day

Dundee UTD 0 - 1 Hearts
Dave Hammond at Tannadice

MICHAEL STEWART struck the goal that extended Hearts' lead over Dundee United in the table, but the real hero for Tynecastle men was goalkeeper Janos Balogh.

The goalkeeper dived to his right to stop a 78th-minute Fran Sandaza penalty that was only just creeping inside the post. It was the Hungarian's sixth clean sheet of the season and was achieved in some style as the home side dominated for long periods, testing both Balogh's shot-stopping qualities and his ability to command his area.

Balogh's performance drew praise from Csaba Laszlo, his manager. "My goalkeeper did a good job," he stated. "His save from the penalty was fantastic."

Considering their injury problems in key areas, notably at centre-back and striker, this was an impressive victory for the capital side. The determination and concentration of the team was tested to the limit as United desperately sought an equaliser right up to the death, five minutes into stoppage time.

With third place in the table at stake, both sides set about the game with steely determination, each having a player booked within the first five minutes. Neither Lee Wallace nor Paul Caddis were guilty of anything more than enthusiastic attempts to stop forwards who were somewhat faster than they: Warren Feeney and Andy Driver the players drawing the fouls.

As the first half panned out, it was the home side that took control. Balogh offered a first glimpse of what was to come just 12 minutes in, when he was forced to make two quick blocks in succession. Caddis had opened up the brittle Hearts backline with a simple through ball for Sandaza, who turned and fired the ball goalwards. From such range, Balogh had no chance to hold on to the ball and when it fell to Caddis to follow up, Hearts appeared certain to go behind. Somehow, however, Balogh managed to re-balance himself and made another excellent block.

Further tests for the Hearts defence were soon to follow. A Darren Dods shot was also blocked at short range by Robbie Neilson. The full-back then robbed Morgaro Gomis of the opportunity of a shot from 12 yards out after Sandaza had got to the bye-line and dragged the ball back for the advancing Gomis.

Sandaza was clearly United's biggest threat, and it was the felling of the Spaniard that earned them the penalty that he so nearly netted. "I am very sad and disappointed," he said. "We played better than them, but that is football."

Whether the penalty call was correct or not remains a moot point. Even Sandaza suggested that he would like to see a video of the incident before he could be sure. The quality of Balogh's save cannot be denied, but Sandaza also knows that he should have struck the ball with more power. "I shot bad," he confessed.

The all-important goal arrived just past the hour mark and even that was an indication of how Hearts allied their hard work and determination with essential elements of luck. The ball fell kindly to Stewart on the edge of the penalty area, but his instinctive shot bounced off a more advanced Adrian Mrowiec, back to Stewart, whose second attempt was a much more measured affair. The ball was aimed low into the left hand corner of the net. "He's claiming an assist off his backside," said Stewart of Mrowiec.

It was now time for United to produce and propel the kitchen sink at the Hearts defence. Sandaza remained the thrower-in-chief and twice came close to levelling the score before his penalty. First he slipped the defence in a central position only to screw his shot wide and then, on 76 minutes, he turned neatly to unleash a shot six yards out at an acute angle, only to see the ball slip agonisingly wide of the far post.

United's desperate attempts to claw back a point continued unabated, with Hearts pinned back into the last third of the field for virtually the remainder of the game. Crosses came from left and right, high and low, but inevitably the ball found its way into the safe hands of Balogh.

Five further minutes were added to the game, a sizeable chunk of that the result of Mrowiec receiving treatment immediately after the penalty, for what nobody seemed to know. In a final act of desperation, Lukasz Zaluska, United's under-employed keeper, raced to the far end of the pitch for a corner, but it was to no avail.

Taken from the Sunday Herald

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