London Hearts Supporters Club

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<-Page <-Team Sat 28 Feb 2009 Dundee United 0 Hearts 1 Team-> Page->
<-Srce <-Type Scotsman ------ Report Type-> Srce->
Csaba Laszlo <-auth Moira Gordon auth-> Eddie Smith
20 of 039 Michael Stewart 62 L SPL A

Stubborn Hearts tightening grip

Moira Gordon at Tannadice
Dundee United 0

Hearts 1
(Stewart 62)
MICHAEL Stewart admitted this match was not easy on the eye but the league table will certainly be looking attractive to Hearts. In recent weeks they have beaten their two nearest rivals and increased the gap between themselves and the other third-place wannabes. And while they slipped into the position fairly unnoticed, happy to allow Aberdeen and Dundee United to hog the limelight, now that they have firmly established their Europa League credentials there is little chance of them enjoying the quiet life between now and May. They are the target others are now aiming for.

Yesterday they over overcame a lack of strikers and another dodgy refereeing decision to become only the third team this season to better United on their own turf and extend the lead over the Tannadice side to five points. They had one real shot on target but they made it count.

Tynecastle legend John Roberston had been at Tannadice this week giving the Dundee United strikers some pointers but for spells of this match the Edinburgh club must have been wishing they could roll back the years and re-enlist his services on the pitch. At least United managed to fashion a few shots on target in the opening period, while Hearts were restricted to a shot from Adrian Mrowiec, which was deflected wide.

Without Christian Nade, Gary Glen and Mike Tullberg, the Pole was given the nod ahead of Calum Elliot. Though Hearts did actually start the match playing the more flowing football, linking up in midfield and benefiting from the runs made by Andy Driver, it was the home side who made the better fist of testing the opposition defence.

In the 12th minute, Janos Balogh had to make a double save when Fran Sandaza fired a shot in on target and his parried effort was pounced on by the onrushing Paul Caddis. Seven minutes later Sandaza provided the cutback to Darren Dods from the byline but the defender's shot from six yards out was cleared off the line by Robbie Neilson. The Hearts captain was omnipresent at that point and he had to be sprightly a minute later when the visitors spurned several chances to clear and the ball eventually broke to United on the outskirts of the box. With a couple of United men eyeing up shooting opportunities, Neilson slid in and dispelled the danger.

However, the longer the game progressed the more it descended into abject stalemate. There was little between the teams, as the league standings would suggest, but their status as the third and fourth best teams in the country belied the fare being served up – the midfield becoming bystanders in a match that relied on long balls hoofed from one end of the pitch to the other.

Finally, though, in the 61st minute, the deadlock was broken and it was a mix of skill and tenacity which brought the chance about. Driver had burst into the box and with tangerine shirts closing in, he still managed to show the dig required to keep the ball and play it back to Michael Stewart at the edge of the box. His initial drive was blocked by team-mate Mrowiec, the power in the strike knocking the Pole off his feet. But it broke back to Stewart and this time it was stroked neatly into the bottom corner of Lukasz Zaluska's net.

It seemed to stir the United players who started to pile the pressure on. Straight away they won back-to-back corners and more of the game was being contested in the Hearts half. In the 73rd minute, Sandaza's effort went just wide and four minutes later, he turned and shot but it just shaved by the goal. He was the player who was getting on the end of most of the United moves but the problem for the home side was his inability to covert that into a goal.

That was underlined at the penalty. It came in the 80th minute but was a dubious award, Eggert Jonsson looking like he had made a good tackle to win the ball but when Sandaza hit the turf, the referee pointed to the spot. Justice was done, though, when the striker sent in an insipid trundler which was easy for Balogh to save. The striker claimed an uneven surface had contributed but was honest enough to describe his shot as "shit". "It was so bad," he said. "But we all kept working and we were very unlucky."

The Hearts manager preferred to talk up his own players, claiming United hadn't missed, his keeper had saved. He was smiling widely as he said it, though. The penalty miss was the boost Hearts needed to withstand the desperate onslaught from the home guys. In the 88th minute Ruben Palazuelos and Christos Karipidis combined to crowd out Sandaza as he tried to test Balogh in more devastating style than he had managed from the spot kick. Then in the 89th minute a Caddis through-ball was laid off by substitute Jon Daly into the path of Dods, but the defender could only muster up the equivalent of a backpass.

In the final minute of stoppage time it was again Karipidis who bravely blocked to deny Craig Conway. It summed up Hearts' spirit and grit. They may be the target the others now have to aim for but yesterday they showed how doggedly they can defend their position.

Robbie Neilson. The captain started the match well and allowed Hearts to get a foothold. When United laid siege at the end of the match he was part of a Hearts defence which held solid and showed their determination to safeguard the three points.

Going into the match Dundee United had only lost two games at home all season, while Hearts had only won four on the road.

The race for the Europa Cup places. With little between them before the match started, this win leaves Hearts in prime position, five points ahead of United.

Taken from the Scotsman

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