Clydesdale Bank SPL, Saturday 19 February 2011 - Tynecastle
Hearts strenghtened their grip on third place in the Clydesdale Bank SPL today - and the place in next season's Europa League that goes with it - with a rather fortuitous win over Dundee United, themselves still having designs on repeating their third place finish of last season. Hearts were far from their best today but, to slip into cliche mode, it's the sign of a good team that doesn't play well but still wins - so I'm told.
Hearts, with Andy Webster making his homecoming, looked shaky from the start. David Goodwillie - given stick from the Hearts support all afternoon for the fact the striker has been charged with rape allegations - thought he had scored after just a couple of minutes but referee Calum Murray ruled the effort out for handball. However, when Barry Douglas gave the visitors the lead after just six minutes Tynecastle was stunned. United dominated the first half and Hearts cause wasn't helped when Lee Wallace hobbled off after half an hour but there was relief for the home fans when Rudi Skacel tapped the ball home on the stroke of half-time after a mix up in the United defence.
Hearts replaced the ineffectual David Obua with David Templeton at the start of the second half and began to look like their normal selves. Fellow substitute Andrew Driver really should have put Hearts ahead when he had three chances in quick succession to score late in the game but after seeing his first two attempts on goal blocked his third effort flew across the goal as frustration grew.
Hearts scored what proved to be the winner when Marius Zaliukas headed home Craig Thomson's corner with just three minutes to go and the home support celebrated. The celebrations were cut short, however, when Ruben Palazuelos brought down Robertson in the penalty box. Red card for the Spaniard, a penalty for United and the chance for them to take a deserved point. However, for the third time this season Hearts keeper Marian Kello saved a penalty, this time from Goodwillie and bedlam ensued at Tynecastle. The final whistle blew soon after and Hearts fans headed home to look out their passports for next season. With nearest challengers Kilmarnock going down 5-0 at Aberdeen, Hearts will all but secure third spot if they beat Killie when they visit Gorgie in a fortnight.
Not the best of games today but a feature for me was the return of Andy Webster. Not every Hearts fan was pleased to see the former Arbroath player return to Tynecastle but he was impressive today after a shaky start and his influence on the young players in the Hearts team was there for all to see.