Sunday, 31 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 0 Kilmarnock 3

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 31 October 2010 - Tynecastle

Hearts chose Halloween to produce a horror show in front of their own supporters this afternoon. They looked out of sorts right from kick-off and the good form they produced eight days ago against St. Mirren was left behind in the dressing room as they fell to another defeat at Tynecastle which is fast becoming a free-for-all rather than a fortress.

The first half was fairly even without either goalkeeper being overly troubled. However, the visitors went ahead on the stroke of half-time when Fraser Wright outjumped Zaliukas to head Hamill's free-kick past Kello. Killie, with the impressive Taouil dictating midfield, just about deserved their half-time lead.

Hearts threw on Templeton and Stephen Elliott for Barr and Calum Elliot at the start of the second half and were dominant for a ten minute period without looking like scoring. Killie weathered the storm and found it easier to pass the ball than the home team who, not for the first time, resorted to lumping the ball towards the ineffective Kevin Kyle when things went against them. Killie underlined their superiority with two late goals from Sammon and Eremenko and the home team trooped off the park to a cacophony of boos - from those Hearts fans who hadn't departed when the third goal went in with eight minutes to go.

Take nothing away from Kilmarnock. They played well and thoroughly deserved their victory. They passed the ball better and threatened to score more than the three goals they got. For Hearts, Stephen Elliott, Marius Zaliukas and David Templeton at least had attempts on goal - but to no avail.

Thus, Hearts passed on the opportunity to move into third place in the SPL. Which was just about the only thing they passed all day. There is perhaps one silver lining. I was feeling quite confident about Hearts chances in the Edinburgh derby next Sunday. Now, I'm anything but...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Killie Me Softly

The managing director at my place of work is a Kilmarnock fan. I’m tempted to say the Kilmarnock fan but I don’t quite fancy the prospect of seeing my P45 sitting on my desk on Monday morning. Therefore, I won’t. In any case, Killie usually take a sizeable support through to Tynecastle so intimating the boss might be sitting on his ownsome in the Roseburn Stand on Sunday would be a tad harsh. One might also have a case for saying supporters of a certain vintage of both clubs can relate to certain similarities in Ayrshire and the west end of Edinburgh in recent years.

Since the days my MD and I began following our respective teams there have been many highs and lows. More lows, admittedly, particularly if you’re an aficionado of the Killie Boys (sorry, boss)

Both teams have endured relegation and gone through the relief of promotion. I could point out that Killie fell as low as the Third Division at one point but I suspect a retort from those in blue and white would be that their team denied Hearts promotion on the last day of season 1981/82 by thrashing Queen of the South 6-0 while Hearts were losing at home to Motherwell. And while I’m on the subject of last day scenarios, I should say I’m thankful I was wasn’t at Tynecastle on the final day of season 1964/65 when Hearts and Killie met for the league title decider. Hearts would have been champions as long as they didn’t lose by two goals or more. Inevitably, given Hearts penchant for snatching despair from the jaws of triumph, the maroons proceeded to lose 2-0 and thereby handed the league championship to Kilmarnock. I was only three years old at the time so I recall nothing of the events of that day but the Tynecastle history books say it did happen and the devastation Hearts fans felt that day would be re-enacted at Dens Park twenty one years later…

Tommy McLean, a winger of some note in the 1960s and 70s began his career at Kilmarnock before moving to Rangers and then beginning a successful managerial career - although his year in charge of Hearts in 1994/95 was somewhat less than glorious. Both Kilmarnock and Hearts are among the handful of clubs outwith the Old Firm to have lifted the Scottish Cup in last twenty years - and they did it in successive years, Killie in 1997 and Hearts a year later. Allan Johnston, Gary Locke, Grant Murray, Gary McSwegan and now Kevin Kyle are among the players who have pulled on both the blue and white and the maroon and white. And, of course, there are Jim Jefferies and Billy Brown who were at Hearts, left for Bradford and returned to Scotland with Kilmarnock - before coming home to Hearts again earlier this year.

The reason I admit to having a wee soft spot for Kilmarnock is that I recall some ding-dong affairs between Hearts and Killie over the years. I have to confess to not having visited Rugby Park on too many occasions. My first trip was to see Hearts secure a 2-1 Scottish Cup win in 1996 when Neil Berry, of all people, scored the winner - I still recall the bemused look on his face when he poked home the winner. He could scarcely be called a prolific scorer but ‘Chuck’s job was to prevent goals, not score them. Another occasion was towards the end of season 2002/03 when Craig Levein was Hearts manager and the maroons had Austin McCann and Andy Webster sent off during a defeat at Rugby Park. Levein’s comments that he lost count of the number of mistakes referee Dougie Mcdonald made after ninety seven incurred the wrath of the SFA and the big Fifer was fined, a penalty that became more severe the number of times he refused to pay it.

Tynecastle has not been without its Hearts-Killie thrillers either. During Jim Jefferies first spell in charge of Hearts, the maroons were flying high in season 1997/98. When Kilmarnock came to Gorgie in November 1997 there ensued one of the best games I’ve seen in more than four decades as a Jambo when a Stephane Adam hat trick inspired Hearts to a thrilling 5-3 win. It was a breathtaking game and Killie, inspired by the veteran Pat Nevin, contributed to a magnificent spectacle.

So, can we expect something similar tomorrow? Well, I suspect we won’t get another 5-3 thriller. However, we will get two teams keen to play a passing game and with the travelling support no doubt eager to show their appreciation to Messrs Jefferies, Brown, Locke and Kyle (okay, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit) the atmosphere should be highly charged.

As it usually is for Hearts-Kilmarnock games. Now, if my boss is reading this, about that pay rise…

Monday, 25 October 2010

Glyn Snodin

Two decades ago when Joe Jordan was Hearts manager, the former Manchester United and Scotland striker used his numerous contacts in England to try and improve the Hearts squad at the time. One of his signings was full back Glyn Snodin.

Snodin at Hearts 1992

Snodin began his career at Doncaster Rovers along with his brother Ian. After eight years in the lower leagues, he moved to Sheffield Wednesday in 1985 for a fee of £135,000. He was a regular of a decent Wednesday side at that time and played in the FA Cup semi-final in 1986. A year later, he rejoined his brother, now at Leeds United but the older Snodin found life difficult at Elland Road. In March 1992, Jordan brought Snodin to Tynecastle on a free transfer and the Yorkshireman made his debut as a substitute in a 2-0 over St. Johnstone.

Snodin initially found it difficult to establish himself in the Hearts first team with defenders of the quality of Alan McLaren, Tosh McKinlay and Craig Levein and it wasn’t until the following season, 1992/93 that Snodin became a regular. He may have had a brief career at Tynecastle, scoring only twice but one of those goals entered Tynecastle folklore. Hearts played the second leg of their UEFA Cup First Round tie against Slavia Prague at Tynecastle in September 1992. Joe Jordan’s men were 1-0 down from the first leg but by half time were 3-1 ahead on the night and ahead by a goal on aggregate. However, the Czech side scored again with twenty-five minutes left and were set to go through on the away goals rule. With ten minutes left, Hearts were awarded a free kick some thirty-five yards from goal. Snodin stepped forward with everyone expecting a cross deep into the Slavia penalty box. However, the full back unleashed a ferocious effort that flew past the stunned Slavia defenders and high into the net to give Hearts a famous 4-2 victory, meaning the maroons went through 4-3 on aggregate. Tynecastle erupted to acclaim one of the finest goals ever seen at the old ground - and from a most unlikely source!

Season 1992/93 had promised much for Hearts but ended in abysmal fashion when the side were hammered 6-0 by Jim Jefferies’ Falkirk in April. Two days later, Joe Jordan was on his way and with him went some of the players be brought to Gorgie. Snodin was one of those players and he returned to his native Yorkshire in July 1993 where he spent two years at Barnsley. At the age of 37, he ended his playing career at non-league Gainsborough Trinity.

Snodin at Leeds United 2010

After scouting for Carlisle United, Snodin became youth team coach at Scarborough before returning to Doncaster Rovers as assistant manager - to his brother Ian! Snodin’s ability as a coach did not go unrecognised and after a spell at Charlton Athletic, he joined another former Hearts manager, George Burley, at Southampton. In 2007, he was also appointed assistant manager for Northern Ireland. After a spell at West Ham, Snodin was back in Yorkshire and today is first team coach at Leeds United where he hopes to assist manager Simon Grayson return the Elland Road club to the FA Premiership.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 3 St. Mirren 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 23 October 2010 - Tynecastle

At last! Hearts recorded their first win of the season at Tynecastle in the SPL and like last week's victory in Aberdeen it was thoroughly deserved. The return of Rudi Skacel was questioned by many but today the Czech star showed what he is made of with a fine hat-trick to destroy the Paisley Saints who sit bottom of the SPL.

Skacel opened the scoring after just 75 seconds. Fine linking play from Suso and Kyle saw Special K lay the ball into the path of Skacel and Rudi blasted home a fine shot from around twenty yards to put Hearts ahead. The home team looked good in the first half with Suso continuing his fine form of late and Skacel dictating midfield. The return of Zaliukas has made a huge difference to the Hearts defence and there was a confidence about the team that was pleasing on the eye.

Hearts doubled their lead on 24 minutes when Skacel curled home a magnificent free-kick from the edge of the penalty box. Hearts were on fire at this point and Skacel really should have completed his hat-trick just before half-time after a pulsating run by Zaliukas but the midfield man's effort was too deliberate and his shot was deflected by a Saints defender on to the crossbar.

Saints started the second half determined to get back into the game and for a little while Hearts were on the back foot. However, Calum Elliot should have scored early in the second period and it seemed like it was just one of those days for him and striker partner Kevin Kyle. It was left to Rudi Skacel to end the scoring in some style in injury time when he danced into the St. Mirren penalty box to slot the ball past keeper Samson for a memorable hat-trick.

A good day at the office for Hearts. Their first home win of the season in the league;  a clean sheet; a hat-trick from the prodigal son and, unusually for the maroons, no bookings. Oh, and Hibs lost again. Carlsberg don't do Saturdays but if they did...

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Aberdeen 0 Heart of Midlothian 1

                                                              SNS photo from BBC website

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 16 October 2010 - Pittodrie

I don't go to many Hearts away games these days but made the effort to head to the Granite City on Saturday to see a game between two teams who have had a stop-start season thus far. Aberdeen began the season at the top of the SPL after winning their opening two games but have endured a barren run of late. Hearts, meanwhile, have turned Tynecastle from a fortress to a free-for-all - they haven't won a league game in Gorgie so far this season - but have a decent record on their travels. Which is why I was quietly but not overly confident of a win for the maroons at Pittodrie (well, the turquoise and white stripes...)

It was one of those games which the media like to call 'tousy'. Referee Mike Tumilty issued seven yellow cards and could - some say perhaps should - have issued at least one red. The bad feeling seemed to emanate from a quite ridiculous reaction from Aberdeen's Zander Diamond who fell to the ground as if he had been shot by a sniper in the main stand after he and Hearts Kevin Kyle went for a fifty-fifty ball. Kyle reacted angrily to Diamond's theatrics and from then on there seemed bad blood between the sides. Blood being the operative word in the case of Hearts Rudi Skacel who had blood pouring from his nose after receiving a smack in the face from a home player.

Suso Santana was then elbowed in the face by Dons defender McArdle. Santana required lengthy treatment and soon developed a lump the size of a large egg on the side of his face. Referee Tumilty stopped play but chose not even to book McArdle or even award Hearts a free-kick. Santana reacted with similar anger to that shown by Kyle and thought it would be wise to clip the Aberdeen player round the ear. Thankfully, Mr Tumilty also missed this although I have a suspicion the SFA will take retrospective action against the Spanish winger, who had an excellent game otherwise.

The only goal of the game came a minute into the second half when fine passing play from the visitors let Calum Elliot deliver an inch perfect cross for Kyle to powerfully head past home keeper Howard who was replaced moments afterwards suffering from concussion.

There was no doubt Hearts deserved to win the game, the only disappointment being they only had a single goal to show for their domination. With two home games coming up against St. Mirren and Kilmarnock, Hearts now have the chance to break their Tynecastle duck. Aberdeen manager Mark McGhee must feel he has a long hard season ahead.

Disappointingly for a fixture that used to be one of the highlights of the season, there were less than 9,000 at Pittodrie on Saturday. And over 1,000 were in maroon. Still, at least we enjoyed the journey home...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Scottish Cup Semi-Final 1996.

As Hearts head to Aberdeen this weekend, here's a clip from the Scottish Cup semi-final between the pair at Hampden in 1996.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Rangers in the Early 1960s

And a sprinkling of talented youngsters including John Greig, Jim Baxter and Willie Henderson.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Steven Boyack

It’s hard to believe nearly ten years have passed since Steven Boyack signed for Hearts. The Edinburgh born attacking midfielder began his career as a seventeen year old of some promise at Rangers in 1993 but with money talking at Ibrox at that time he failed to make the breakthrough as a first team regular. After a loan spell at Hull City, Boyack signed for Dundee in 1999 where he finally achieved the status of being a first team regular. However, money was beginning to talk at Dens Park as well at that time and he was loaned out to Ayr United in October 2000.

Hearts manager Craig Levein showed he had faith in Boyack when he signed him for £25,000 in January 2001. He made an inaudacious start though as a Hearts team containing seven full internationalists were held to a goalless draw by Berwick Rangers in the Scottish Cup. However, Boyack’s relentless hard work made him a favourite with the Hearts fans. He may not have been a prolific goalscorer and he was afflicted by injury on occasion but he never let anyone down.

Hearts released Boyack in the summer of 2004, a decision that puzzled many given fellow midfielder Scott Severin also left Tynecastle at the same time. Boyack then signed for Livingston before enjoying spells at Boston United, Blackpool and Stirling Albion. At just thirty years old, Boyack signed for junior side Bathgate Thistle, which seemed an inglorious end to what was once a very promising career.

Although he still plays amateur football, today Steven Boyack has a very different career - he is Operations Director of Platinum Recruitment Services.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Death in Prague

It seems a strange thing to say but part of the allure of being a Hearts supporter is there are more downs than ups. Younger readers may think I’ve been at the brandy and lemonade again but I’d like to think those Hearts fans who have been worshipping the maroons since the days of Donald Ford, Jim Cruickshank and Alan Anderson would know what I mean. Success may be an infrequent visitor to Tynecastle but when it arrives we hard-pressed Jambos know how to appreciate it.

Witnessing Hearts Scottish Cup triumphs of 1998 and 2006 were dreams come true for me and thousands of others with maroon blood. However, there have been other occasions where success wasn’t measured so much in silverware but in triumphs that induced the great to be a Jambo factor. One of these came in November 2003. When the draw for the second round of the UEFA Cup paired Hearts with French giants FC Girondins de Bordeaux it was the pairing that watered the mouths of the Hearts support. Three thousand of us headed to the south of France seven weeks before Christmas and basked in temperatures in the low seventies and an unforgettable day camped outside an Irish pub in a French city. As Hearts were very much the underdogs against one of the best teams in France, an unforgettable day turned into an unforgettable night as Craig Levein’s men recorded a remarkable 1-0 victory thanks to Mark de Vries’ strike twelve minutes from the end. For those of us who literally made a flying visit there and back in less than twenty-four hours it was simply the perfect day - my best experience of being a Hearts fans in over forty years, outside the aforementioned Scottish Cup triumphs.

Levein may have been a rookie at managing in European competition but he got his tactics spot on that evening. Admittedly, I was somewhat bemused when I heard the Hearts starting eleven as I joined the thronging mass of the Hearts support behind the goal at the Stade Chaban-Delmas half an hour before kick-off. We all thought Hearts would adopt a less than cavalier approach, try to keep the scoreline respectable and bring the French back to Tynecastle for the return leg with a fighting chance of making it to the next round. When I heard that Dennis Wyness, Jean-Louis Valois and Mark de Vries were all starting I couldn’t understand it. Yes, like most of the three thousand Jambos present, I had consumed a fair amount of alcohol that day - the French hospitality was superb and we didn’t want to offend our hosts - but I couldn’t understand Craig Levein’s thinking. Then, when the game started it quickly became evident Hearts were playing an unheard of formation of 3-6-1 - with de Vries the lone striker and Wyness and Valois part of the plan to swamp the midfield.

Hearts fans had spent a not inconsiderable amount of money on the trip to see Craig Levein’s tactics of more or less telling his Hearts players not to cross the halfway line unless they had to. Now, of course, the reason Levein has progressed from club manager to Head Coach of the national side is that he knows infinitely more about football than the likes of I. Hearts attempts to go forward that evening were few but one attempt proved fruitful - when de Vries hooked home the only goal of the game towards the end there was bedlam in the Hearts end of the stadium and I lauded the Hearts manager as a master tactician.

Seven years later Levein is now in charge of Scotland. When he took the Scots to Prague to face the Czech Republic in a Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday, he obviously thought of that glorious evening in Bordeaux with Hearts and set out the Scotland stall accordingly. However, there were notable differences this time.

Against the Czech Republic Scotland played 4-6-0. No strikers. Yes, Levein had decided a goalless draw would be the target for his team. Now, I’m an old-fashioned kind of fella who still hankers for the days when football was considered entertainment. Ten thousand Scots headed for Prague and while I suspect not many thought Scotland would win, most would have expected their team to at least try to venture forward now and again. I watched the game on television and grimaced as the Scots remained camped in their own half. It was football, Jim, but not as we know it.

Yet it seemed at one point that Levein’s grim master plan would pay off. Until with twenty minutes to go the Czechs scored the one goal they needed. Levein resorted to Plan B and threw on Kenny Miller and Chris Iwelumo but the damage had been done. Of course, it’s easy to be critical with hindsight but if the Scots had had a go from the outset things might have been different. After all the Czech Republic are not the same side that was one of the best in Europe a few years ago. Lithuania showed how it could be done by beating the Czechs in their own back yard just a month earlier. It seems Scotland’s stock in world football has fallen to the extent we don’t think we should even be on the same field as some countries - this despite beating France home and away just a few seasons ago.

As I’ve said, Craig Levein knows more about football than most of us. But surely the purpose of playing football is to score goals? Having no strikers indicated the Scots had metaphorically thrown in the towel before the game had even started. Has Levein lost all faith in Scottish football? If he has he is sadly not alone.

I agree with fellow blogger Kenfitlike -  Scottish football died in Prague on Friday evening. The funeral is scheduled to place at Hampden against Spain this Tuesday...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Heart of Midlothian 1 Rangers 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 2 October 2010 - Tynecastle

Watching Hearts-Rangers games these days is akin to watching an old film for the umpteenth time. You know what's going to happen but you just can't help but go along and hope, forlornly, for a different ending. Today at Tynecastle - there was no different ending, just the all too familiar gut-wrenching finale which those of us in maroon have sadly become accustomed to.

The match was covered live by ESPN which meant a ridiculously early kick-off time of 12 noon. Tynecastle wasn't full to bursting and I suspect the time of the kick-off may have contributed to this. Hearts began brightly as they have done in most games this season. Rudi Skacel - making his first start since his return to Gorgie - took advantage of a poor defending from Bougherra and Whittaker to prod the ball into an empty net to give Hearts an early lead. It was against the run of play but no one in the home support was caring.

Rangers had most of the play but, for once, the Hearts defence was resolute with Adrian Mrowiec immense. What a find this player is. Hearts keeper Marian Kello then produced a breathtaking save from Jelavic and Hearts went in at the interval a goal ahead.

Rangers dominated the second half but it seemed the home side would hold out - until the inevitable happened ten minutes from time. Rangers substitute Lafferty drilled home a free-kick which the Hearts defence seemed to make a collective decision to get out the way of. Poor Kello seemed in despair that all his earlier heroics had been in vain. 1-1 and it seemed like a share of the spoils. Until the fourth official advised there would be five minutes additional time at the end of the ninety minutes. Where he got five minutes from was anyone's guess. Or as the fella next to me said 'they'll play on until Rangers get the winner'. Four minutes into stoppage time Hearts Craig Thomson went for a fifty-fifty ball but this was deemed a free-kick by his namesake Craig Thomson the referee. A quite ridiculous decision  - and from the free-kick Steven Naismith danced into the Hearts penalty box and poked the ball beyond Kello to give Rangers the winner with very nearly the last kick of the game.

Hearts didn't deserve to win but there's a case to argue they didn't deserve to lose either. Rangers players and officials reactions at the end of the game spoke volumes - they were mighty relieved to get three points. Most Hearts fans knew the script - we've seen this happen with the Old Firm countless times before. Keeper Kello and defender Mrowiec were superb for Hearts. Kevin Kyle had perhaps his least effective game in maroon - he had a glorious chance to put Hearts back in front with five minutes left but blazed his header over the bar.

Hearts now have two weeks to lick their wounds before they - and I - head for Aberdeen. Rangers remain joint top of the SPL and to give them credit they kept going to the end - as they always seem to do. However, for all the talk of foreign players' antics it was disappointing to see Rangers Steven Naismith try his best to persuade referee Craig Thomson to show Eggert Jonsson a yellow card - knowing full well the Icelandic player had already been booked.