Saturday, 27 February 2010

Aberdeen 0 Heart of Midlothian 1

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 27 February 2010 - Pittodrie (or was it Aberdeen beach?)

The mini match reports on this blog are of games I have attended. I have to confess I didn't go to Pittodrie today for numerous reasons: a) a ridiculous kick-off time of 12 noon - how convenient for those who did travel to the Granite City, b) I've already seen Hearts lose twice to Aberdeen in the last six weeks and c) Hearts have been quite awful this season - the worst Hearts team for thirty years. Oh and d) the game was live on ESPN, hence the kick off time and, I suspect, the reason many people stayed away (I believe this was Aberdeen's lowest attendance of the season)

The game was, in keeping with so many Hearts games this season, quite awful. Forgive me if I have written this before but it is true. At least today there was some kind of excuse - the pitch was quite woeful and wholly unplayable and this combined with the biting wind from the North Sea made the possibility of free-flowing football non-existent. Not that it existed in any case given the teams who were playing.

Two shocking refereeing decisions threatened to undo Hearts efforts. Firstly, Ryan Stevenson was blatantly pushed in the Aberdeen penalty box just before half-time right in front of the eyes of the referee. No penalty said Willie Collum. Secondly, Larry Kingston went for a fifty-fifty ball with Aberdeen's Fraser Fyvie. Both had their feet high and there was an inevitable collision. It appeared as if Fyvie had been the victim of a terrorist atrocity as the way he reacted when he fell to the ground indicated he had been shot by a sniper in the sparse crowd. Referee Collum was suitably impressed by the youngster's antics to show Kingston a red card when a yellow would have been more appropriate.

Having lost Kurchaski and Zaliukas to injury, Hearts were now down to ten men. But what they lacked in skill they made up for in spirit - although Eggart Jonsson's superbly taken goal moments later was something to savour. The Icelandic internationalist took a deflected Calum Elliot effort on the volley and with a superb bicycle kick swept the ball past an astonished Jamie Langfield in the Aberdeen goal.

There endeth the scoring. Aberdeen looked a side bereft of confidence and ideas; Hearts at least played with a spirit that was commendable and look good for a top six place come the ludicrous SPL split in April.

To my esteemed blogging colleagues Ken Fitlike and Huntly Loon - things can only get better!

Monday, 22 February 2010

His Name is Drew Busby

Drew Busby frightens the life out of a certain Alan Hansen circa 1973

Hearts didn’t have too many heroes in the 1970s - but there was one whose name remains revered to this day. A player with one of hardest shots in Scottish football - Drew Busby.
Busby had played for Coventry City and Third Lanark in the 1960s before a spell with Vale of Leven Juniors alerted Airdrieonians to bring Busby back into the senior game. At Broomfield Park, Busby’s scoring prowess forged a profitable partnership with another Drew – Drew Jarvie. Hearts paid £35,000 for Busby and with his bustling style and penchant for scoring spectacular goals, he was an instant hero to the fans. Busby scored in Hearts 4-1 trouncing of Hibernian in September 1973 and, just ten days later, scored Hearts goal in a 1-0 Texaco Cup victory over Everton at Goodison Park. To cap a memorable month, Busby scored twice as Hearts defeated Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox at the end of September and were sitting top of the league for an all too brief spell. Drew Busby had arrived!

The sight of Super Drew terrorising the Locomotive Leipzig defence as Hearts fired five goals past the East Germans in a European Cup Winners tie at Tynecastle in 1976 remains etched on the memory of those who saw it.

Busby’s affection for Hearts was demonstrated when he remained at Tynecastle even though First Division football beckoned in 1977 and Busby’s twenty goals helped Hearts scramble over the promotion finishing line. He scored a memorable hat-trick in a 7-0 thrashing of Arbroath at Gayfield at Christmas 1977.

Busby’s considerable experience was required as Hearts returned to the Premier Division in 1978 but the rest of his Hearts team mates didn’t quite match Drew’s standards and Hearts faced relegation again at the end of the season.

Forced to make major cutbacks, Hearts released Busby at the end of season 1978-79, a decision that only served to increase the anguish Hearts fans felt at the time. Drew headed for Canada and a spell with Toronto Blizzard before returning to Scotland to play for Morton and then player-manager at Queen of the South.

Today, Drew helps run The Waverley Bar in Dumbarton.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Heart of Midlothian 2 Hamilton Academical 0

Photo from The Herald

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 21 February 2010 - Tynecastle Stadium

Last year may have been the year of the Homecoming but for Hearts fans 2010 is the year Jim Jefferies returned home. After last week's win over Falkirk, Hearts won again at Tynecastle with a somewhat weary victory over an Accies side embroiled in a relegation fight.

Calum Elliot made his first start of the season for Hearts who were still without several injured players, the suspended Michael Stewart and Christian Nade who has been metaphorically sent to Coventry.

Like so many games at Tynecastle this season, the first half was one to forget. Zaliukas was given a free header just before half-time but elected to head the ball into the Gorgie Stand rather than give the home team the lead.

Just as the game was beginning to take on the look of a goalless affair, Hearts scored after sixty-four minutes. Fine play from new boy Ryan Stevenson saw the former Ayr United player deliver a cross of pinpoint accuracy to find the head of David Obua who nodded past keeper Cerny. Hearts doubled their lead with ten minutes left when substitute David Templeton punished an error by Accies defender Easton to seal the game for the home team. Larry Kingston came on as a substitute for Hearts and showed a couple of neat touches - but he'll need to show much more if he wants to remain at Tynecastle next season.

Not the greatest of games but Hearts have taken six points from two home games in eight days. Jim Jefferies knows he has much work to do but perhaps now has some breathing space to let him do so.

East Stirlingshire 0 Livingston 2

Irn Bru Scottish League Third Division, Saturday 20 February 2010 - Ochilview

It's strange how the most eagerly anticipated games can turn out to be hugely disappointing. Shire fans had been looking forward to this fixture for weeks and the opportunity to throw down the challenge for the league title against a team who were in the First Division this time last year. Three times the normal crowd headed for Larbert on a bright but cold afternoon, full of confidence and rightly so. Shire had won their previous eight games and were tucked in behind Livingston in the league, having played a couple of games fewer. Alas, high expectations were somewhat misplaced.

Shire paid their full-time opponents far too much respect, particularly in a hugely disappointing first half. They seemed almost in awe of the West Lothian team who dicated play from the off and it was no surprise when Livvy took the lead after just fifteen minutes when Halliday nodded Robbie Winter's cross past Barclay. In truth, Gary Bollan's team should have score more goals in the opening forty-five minutes and Shire manager Jim McInally must have been relieved to reach half-time just one goal behind.

McInally certainly said things at the break because Shire started the second period in much more determined fashion. However, hopes of a fightback receded when Michael Bolochoweckyj reacted angrily to Winters' theatrical dive after a challenge. Bolochoweckyj was booked for the challenge and lost the plot by angrily lashing out at Winters - referee Beaton had no choice but to flash another yellow card and therefore a red to the Shire defender. Winters, the former Dundee United and Aberdeen striker, clearly knew what he was doing and the Shire man's dismissal meant an uphill struggle for the home team.

This was emphasised when Winters added a second goal for the visitors a few minutes later. Yet, Shire never gave up and Simon Lynch passed up a glorious chance late on which, had he taken, would have given the home team a lifeline. Truth was, however, the better team deserved their victory and are now seven points clear of The Shire.

Jim McInally won't be giving up on lifting the league title, however. If Shire win their two games in hand they will be just a point behind Livingston - and have still to make two visits to Almondvale. When they go there, however, they will need to have the belief they can defeat the full-time leaders of the league.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Way They Were...

Jim Jefferies - now in his second stint as Hearts manager, Willie Gibson and a fresh faced John Robertson pose for the camera at Tynecastle in 1981.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Heart of Midlothian 3 Falkirk 2

Picture from SNS via the BBC website

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 13 February 2010 - Tynecastle
Jim Jefferies first game at Tynecastle since returning as Hearts manager a fortnight ago was different to most of the other games played in Gorgie this season - it was eventful. And Hearts scored three goals in one game for the first time since Moses was a lad...

An alleged dressing room bust-up involving Christian Nade and Ian Black saw the former omitted from the Hearts squad today. Reports that Nade swung a punch at the former Caley Thistle player - and missed - are unsubstantiated. Skipper Michael Stewart was suspended for today's game - he and Nade are out of contract at the end of the season and the sensible money is on them being shown the Tynecastle exit door.

The truth is Hearts played better without them. Helped by an early goal from Lee Wallace, Hearts played reasonably well in parts of the game. It's clear, even at this early stage, that the Jefferies influence is playing a part. More passing, moving forward with purpose and a team spirit that perhaps was lacking before. Falkirk levelled through a Kucharski own goal just before half-time but Suso restored Hearts lead early in the second half. Then Ian Black scored an absolute screamer from twenty five yards to put Hearts 3-1 ahead and while Falkirk scored late on to jangle a few nerves, it was a deserved win for the maroons.

Much work lies ahead but for the first time in weeks there are encouraging signs. The prodigal son has returned to Tynecastle - and so has a smidgen of optimism...

Saturday, 6 February 2010

East Stirlingshire's Magnificent Gesture

Not only are East Stirlingshire FC going great guns in the Scottish Third Division - if they beat Elgin on Wednesday they'll go top of the league - but they're doing their bit for the community.

The Elgin game at Ochilview will be free admission for all. Yes, free. There will be a collection to raise funds for the Yorkhill Children's Foundation and Shire are asking fans to donate in return for not paying an entrance fee to the game.

Football is presently having some bad press in the wake of the John Terry saga. It's time to highlight a magnificent gesture by East Stirlingshire - and one that deserves recognition.

East Stirlingshire 3 Berwick Rangers 2

Irn Bru Third Division - Saturday 6 February 2010 - Ochilview

The Mighty Shire march on! Jim McInally's men recorded their seventh successive league win thanks to a hugely entertaining performance against promotion rivals Berwick Rangers. My three most enjoyable games this season have been in Larbert and this was another satisfying afternoon.

'Welcome to Ochilview' said the jovial stadium announcer just before kick-off, 'the land that time forgot!' Cheered on by the usual vociferous home support, Shire attacked from the off. However, it's fair to say the Wee Rangers made a game of it and made Shire work very hard for their victory. The opening goal came just before half-time when a sublime free-kick from Jamie Stevenson gave the home side a deserved lead. Berwick equalised early in the second half with a fine strike from former Hibee Damon Gray only for Shire's Stephen McGuire to score twice in three minutes to give the home side a 3-1 lead.

A second goal from Gray gave Shire an uncomfortable closing few minutes but McInally's men hung on for a deserved win. A fine afternoon was enhanced further when the news came through from Station Park that Forfar Athletic scored a last minute equaliser against league leaders Livingston.

Shire are now just a point behind the West Lothian team - and if they defeat Elgin at Ochilview on Wednesday they will top the league.

Just two weeks now until Shire play Livvy in a top of the table clash at Ochilview. I can't wait!

Robbie Keane Joins Celtic

You may have missed the news that Robbie Keane has joined Celtic - the press have scarcely mentioned it...Apparently he joined on Monday on loan until the end of the season.

So I assume he's on his way back to Tottenham Hotspur then...