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Paulo Sergio <-auth Richard Bath auth-> Steven McLean
Zaliukas Marius [P McGowan pen 12] ;[S Thompson 18]
20 of 034 Marius Zaliukas 1 ;Rudi Skacel 23 ;Rudi Skacel 63 ;Rudi Skacel 68 ;John Sutton 90L SPL H

Rudi Skacel hat-trick eases Tynecastle men out of a spot or two of bother

By Richard Bath at Tynecastle
Published on Sunday 15 January 2012 01:06

FROM the moment that Marius Zaliukas rose unchallenged at the near post to head Hearts ahead in the first minute to the moment when John Sutton’s sledgehammer drive ballooned the back of the St Mirren net a minute before full-time, this hugely entertaining game crackled with intensity, quality and an almost palpable desperation to win from both sides, all played out against the deafening backdrop of a broiling Tynecastle.

With the Hearts skipper sent off in questionable circumstances just 12 minutes into the game and St Mirren fiercely contesting Hearts’ second goal, this come-from-behind win by ten-man Hearts had drama and controversy by the barrowload.

But mostly it had goals, seven of them in all, with a Rudi Skacel hat-trick of rare quality one of the undoubted highlights of the season so far. The fact that Skacel’s contract is up later this month wasn’t lost on anyone.

“I would like to stay until the end of the season,” the Czech said later. “We will see what happens. We will talk next week. Hopefully we can find a solution.”

Manager Paulo Sergio said: “I know Rudi wants to stay and I’m happy to have him too.”

Hearts are undoubtedly indebted to Skacel because for much of the game this was an evenly-balanced dogfight. Not until he hit his second to put Hearts into the lead just after the hour did the home side look comfortable, and for most of that first hour they were playing catch-up against a committed St Mirren for whom Paul McGowan and Graham Carey were outstanding.

Not that it looked that way after 90 seconds, when Zaliukas headed Hearts into a 1-0 lead from a corner. That marked the beginning of a short spell of domination that was broken after 12 minutes when McGowan latched on to Kenny McLean’s through-ball into the Hearts box, only to go over under pressure from Zaliukas just as he was about to pull the trigger. To the fury of the crowd, referee Steven McLean not only pointed to the spot but also showed the Hearts skipper a red card. McGowan placed the ball expertly into the corner from the penalty, the St Mirren livewire being roundly booed whenever he received the ball from then on.

If that was an explosive start, there was far more to come. With St Mirren in the ascendant as Hearts tried to reorganise, the impressive David Barron broke down the right wing and lobbed a cross towards the edge of the Hearts box. It looked as if Adrian Mrowiec had plenty of time to clear, but Steven Thompson threw himself forward, meeting the ball just before the midfielder and looping a superb header over goalkeeper Marian Kello.

That, though, was little more than the cue for the Skacel show to start in earnest. His first must be a contender for goal of the season. Again it came from a corner, but this time in more controversial circumstances, with Graham Carey being just about to clear when Skacel clearly pushed him off the ball before unleashing a rocket into the top corner. How referee McLean missed the offence is anyone’s guess, but that equaliser changed the course of the game.

So did Skacel’s next major contribution, a goal of great technique and perfect precision which came 20 minutes into the second half, the Czech sending a low, scudding shot across keeper Craig Samson and into the bottom corner. Even that, though, was as nothing compared to his third goal just five minutes later. Skacel won the ball just outside the St Mirren box and broke infield before firing the ball back across Samson for his third. On the Tannoy, the Specials’ “A message to you, Rudi” blasted out. If there had been a roof on Tynecastle it would have come off.

For a classy St Mirren side it was all too much, and in the final 20 minutes they looked dispirited. Not that ten-man Hearts had any intention of going easy on them, and in the final minute of regulation time Sutton completed their misery by smashing in a fifth. That is four losses in a row for Saints since beating Rangers, and manager Danny Lennon was unable to hide his concern that “we went from being in total control to looking very, very ordinary”.

For a Hearts side which made manager Sergio “very proud, very happy”, this is a remarkable win born out of sheer guts and determination that not only maintains their momentum but moves the embattled club up to third in the table.

They may be struggling off the field, but when it comes to the real business of football, Vladimir Romanov’s players could teach their Lithuanian boss a thing or two.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Rudi Skacel (Hearts)

Three goals of true brilliance.

TALKING POINT: Should Skacel’s first goal, which made it 2-2, have stood after he shoved Graham Carey in the back?

Referee: S McLean. Attendance: 12,462

Taken from the Scotsman

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