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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Alan Pattullo auth-> Eddie Smith
27 of 039 Michael Stewart 62 L SPL A

Stewart provides sole moment of quality as Hearts frustrate United

Alan Pattullo
AS ONE Dundee United fan wryly noted as he left the stadium, there's something not right when you get beaten by a side who have come looking only for a draw. This summed up the level of frustration felt by the home team after not even five minutes of injury time could deliver the goal that would at least have kept them within a result of their opponents.
Instead manager Craig Levein must reflect on the damage inflicted by just one win in seven league matches this year, a run of form which has se

If such a term as 'race' implies excitement, it does not guarantee the presence of quality. This was a match which gleaned much of its intrigue from what was at stake rather than what took place on the field of play. Although United have only won once in the SPL since the turn of the year, they had, before Saturday, only lost twice. Hearts, under Csaba Laszlo, have similarly built a reputation for being hard to beat. What followed was the expected stalemate – but with the unexpected bonus of a goal.

The rutted pitch did not help those few players who wanted to play with the ball at their feet. Though the winning goal came via a refreshingly sure piece of finishing from Michael Stewart, there was an element of slapstick attached. Stewart was the first to acknowledge team-mate Adrian Mrowiec's part in the build-up, with the midfielder having seen his original shot cannon back off the Pole's backside. "He is in there claiming an assist," noted Stewart with a smile later – this presumably after Mrowiec, who occupied a lone striking role due to an absence of alternatives, had recovered from the ailment which required him to be stretchered from the pitch just after United contrived to miss a penalty in the game's turning point.

Mrowiec's plight contributed to what were manic scenes following referee Eddie Smith's decision to point to the spot after Fran Sandaza took a tumble in the box with just 11 minutes remaining. This infuriated Hearts, who claimed Eggert Jonsson's outstretched leg had made contact with the ball rather than man. The fact that even Sandaza later admitted he was not sure one way or the other tends to support the away side's view, as did his lame attempt to convert it. The Spaniard's effort was almost sheepish, the ball bouncing more than once before landing in the grateful arms of Janos Balogh.

After Sandaza's explosive strike from the spot against Aberdeen a week earlier, it was a disappointment, particularly since he had been one of the few eye-catching performers. Levein later applauded his four-man midfield, which he felt had come out on top against the five men Hearts employed in the same area of the pitch. It was, though, hard to judge who had the upper hand as the teams huffed and puffed. Heavy fouls in the opening minutes from Lee Wallace and Paul Caddis – both of which earned yellow cards – set the tone for an afternoon of blood and thunder, and Hearts were outraged at the start of the second half when the referee ignored Mrowiec's extravagant tumble on the edge of the United area.

This sense of injustice was soothed by Stewart's fine strike in 62 minutes. If there was a complaint registered by the Hearts midfielder's team-mates, it might have been that the goal had come too early. United still had nearly half an hour to draw level, a period of time which was always likely to grow longer in recognition of some fairly obvious attempts to run down the clock by Hearts. David Obua, for one, seemed to have little reason to look so stricken as he lay on the turf, demanding the attention of a physio. The still-vivid memory of the clearly confused French lock Sebastien Chabal's determination to re-join the fray on Friday night at the Stade de France following an almighty collision with two Welsh opponents served to mock this particular episode.

The stretcher which later transported Mrowiec from the park at least indicated something more serious, though he was still able to clap the away supporters as he was carried around the pitch.

Few could say they genuinely enjoyed a match where the ball was almost routinely kicked out of play, although try and convince those Hearts fans who stayed behind after the final whistle to applaud their heroes from the pitch that this was a wasted journey. In scenes reminiscent of when Celtic claimed the title here last year, the visiting supporters hooted their delight. The objects of such affection proved less than shy when responding to this acclaim, some stripping off their shirts and tossing them into the crowd.

Such scenes were noted by the United players as they made a more hurried exit. Levein made a point of illustrating there was a long way to go – "there's 11 games left, which isn't a kick in the backside away from a third of the season," he pointed out. Dundee United defender Darren Dods also cautioned against anyone getting too carried away.

"I think they were quite happy getting the win," remarked the centre-half. "They might think 'well, we've done it'. But we've already shown this season what can happen. In the early part of the season we were down near the bottom of the league and then put a good run together, closing it right up and making third place our own. I think if we go on a run like that again we can pull it back. It's getting tight, with Motherwell winning today. Hearts have to play us all again. I think a lot will change."

Taken from the Scotsman

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