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23 of 036 Gordon Smith [3] 84SC H

Hearts' Gordon Smith denies brave Auchinleck Talbot in Scottish Cup

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Observer report
Match facts

Scottish Cup 2011-12
Hearts 1

Smith 84

Auchinleck Talbot 0

Ewan Murray at Tynecastle, Saturday 7 January 2012 17.50 GMT
Article history

Hearts gordon smith Auchinleck Talbot
Hearts' Gordon Smith scores the only goal after a fumble by goalkeeper Andy Leishman. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS Group

When Heart of Midlothian were bundled out of the Scottish Cup by Forfar Athletic in February 1982, one reporter noted that Tynecastle might as well be turned into a car park to save a lot of people any further distress.

Three decades on, chronic debt levels mean quips about the long-term security of Hearts' home ground is routine. As if to draw another parallel, Paulo Sérgio's team did their best to produce a result which would have proved even worse than that Forfar defeat. With six minutes left, Hearts were heading for arguably the worst result in their history.

Auchinleck Talbot, from Scotland's non-league junior ranks, deserve all the credit from this fourth-round tie. It took 84 minutes for a dismal Hearts performance to summon the winning goal, with the home support only staying put until full time to applaud the visiting players.

Albeit he will argue his team are in the draw for round five, Sérgio is worthy of criticism for this unedifying affair. Hearts entered this game on a four-game unbeaten run and still on a high from a comfortable victory over their city rivals, Hibernian, on 2 January. Rather than maintain momentum, their manager made eight starting changes and even allowed his captain, Marius Zaliukas, a few days holiday in his native Lithuania. That lax approach almost cost Sérgio; only an offside flag prevented Talbot a stoppage-time equaliser.

Sérgio has admitted that his ambitions for Hearts have been blunted by fiscal reality. An exodus of experienced and high-earning players from Tynecastle is necessary as the club owner, Vladimir Romanov, is unwilling to subsidise Hearts to his previous level.

Reckless management from Romanov's management, of course, has been the key factor in Hearts encountering such frequent off-field trouble. Their new policy, which will see the fast-track promotion of youth players, should have been put in place five years ago; and through choice rather than necessity.

Sérgio handed a debut to the teenage full-back Fraser Mullen with another, Jordan Morton, introduced at half-time. By that stage, Hearts were toiling to breach Talbot's resistance.

The promising Mullen had an introduction he would probably rather forget. Supporters in Tynecastle's hospitality suites had been urged to invest some cash on the prospect of the defender scoring at any time in the tie at odds of 10-1. At youth level, Mullen is renowned as a set-piece expert. There would have been some premature rubbing of hands, then, after 20 minutes. Hearts were awarded a penalty after Gordon Pope hauled down Arvydas Novikovas, Mullen instantly grabbing the ball. Yet the 18-year-old was foiled by an excellent low save from Andrew Leishman, thereby becoming the fourth Hearts player in succession to waste a penalty.

Aided by a fine display from Leishman, Talbot were able to keep Hearts at bay for the remainder of the opening period. The goalkeeper saved well from Rudi Skacel before a Novikovas cut-back was scrambled clear. Talbot's sole chance fell to Keir Milliken, but he shot tamely into the arms of Jamie MacDonald.

Whether through Ségio's flawed logic or their players' own volition, Hearts adopted a bizarre policy of continually passing the ball along their defensive line. Aside from contributing to a lack of attacking impetus, that tactic handed Talbot's players plenty of rest time. It also, rightly, miffed the home crowd. There was a seven-minute stoppage in the second half after what looked to be a serious injury incurred by the Hearts centre-back Darren Barr in an aerial challenge inside the Talbot penalty area. The former Falkirk player departed on a stretcher with his neck in a brace.

When the play restarted, Skacel was denied by another excellent Leishman save at point-blank range. Skacel's next effort, from long range, was deflected narrowly wide of the Talbot upright.

Gordon Smith had more luck. The unfortunate Leishman collided with Bryan Slavin when looking to clear a Morton ball into the box, Smith pouncing to win the game. The day, however, belonged to Talbot.

Taken from the Guardian/Observer

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