Sunday, 30 October 2011

Heart of Midlothian 0 Kilmarnock 1

Clydesdale Bank SPL- Saturday 29 October 2011, Tynecastle

Almost a year to the day since Kilmarnock coasted to a 3-0 win over Hearts at Tynecastle, the Ayrshire men were at it again on Saturday as they took all three points against an aimless home team. Hearts weren't helped by the foolish sending off of tempestuous midfielder Ian Black after just 15 minutes. The former Caley Thistle man lunged in on former Hibby Dean Shiels, leaving referee Alan Muir little choice but to flash a red card. Being a man short for 75 minutes would always mean an uphill task for the home team to take anything from the game but, curiously, they continued to dominate the first half. Skacel and Stevenson both had chances before a decent shout for a penalty when the ball hit the arm of Pursehouse was ignored by referee Muir, some of whose decisions were, shall we say, questionable to say the least.

Unsurprisingly, given their numerical advantage, Killie came more into the game in the second half and scored the game's only goal after 55 minutes, when Hefferman ran through on goal only to be fouled by Marius Zaliukas. From my vantage point in the Wheatfield Stand, I thought the foul was committed outside the penalty box. Referee Muir consulted with his assistant before awarding a penalty kick to Killie - Dean Shiels duly converted. For reasons known only to himself, referee Muir showed only a yellow card to Zaliukas for his indiscretion when it seemed to me he clearly denied the Killie man a goalscoring opportunity. But then, the referee had a bizarre afternoon, something Hearts manager Paulo Sergio seemed to agree with when he was sent to the stand by the official in the second half.

For the second game in succession, Hearts have been left empty-handed from a game they deserved to take something. Black's dismissal didn't help and the home players visibly tired towards the end of the game. However, it's perhaps time for changes to be made to this Hearts team. Ian Black is a talented player but he is fast becoming a liability. Quite what he was thinking of when he lunged in on Shiels, one can only guess. At the back, Zaliukas is another who can hardly be described as dependable - how many times has the Lithuanian cost Hearts dear?  Again, Hearts began the game with no recognised strikers although I thought Sergio had taken a nose bleed when he brought on both Stephen Elliott and Gordon Smith late in the game in an effort to salvage a point.

It would be nice to think this might change at St. Mirren next week. Black will be suspended so there should be a welcome return for the gifted Mehdi Taouil. A front two of Elliott and Smith with, perhaps Darren Barr in defence? Probably not...

Top man: David Templeton - looking back to his best before he tired in the second half

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Fergie's Worst Defeat...

Sir Alex Ferguson described Manchester United's 6-1 hammering from rivals City last Sunday as 'the worst result in his history' Apparently, he had never lost by such a heavy score even as a player.

The above team photo is Falkirk from season 1970/71. On 26 April 1971, the Bairns lost 7-1 to Airdrieonians. Pictured front right is a player who who played that afternoon - 29 year old Alex Ferguson...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Mario Balotelli

The Manchester City striker is now the face of a firework safety campaign - days after his house caught fire after someone let off a firework in his bathroom. There are some things you just can't make up...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Heart of Midlothian 0 Rangers 2

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 23 October 2011

Having seen their team dispose of Celtic three weeks ago, Hearts fans held high hopes their heroes could complete an Old Firm double at Tynecastle this afternoon. But we older Hearts supporters know only too well what happens when we get high hopes...

Hearts certainly began the game brightly and dominated the opening 20 minutes. David Templeton was in the mood to cause problems and Rangers defender Whittaker was cautioned after just ten minutes for a lunge at the winger. The hard working Ryan Stevenson had a chance to open the scoring but failed to take it and there was an inevitability about Rangers taking the lead on 20 minutes. The aforementioned Whittaker was allowed to run at length through a far too accommodating Hearts defence and the former Hibby set up Naismith who slotted the ball beyond Marian Kello. It was a lead the visitors scarcely deserved and it took the wind out of Hearts sails. Gradually, they got a head of steam once more. Stevenson got on the end of a through ball from Ian Black but he was denied by the combined effort of former Hearts player Lee Wallace and Bocanegra. The best chance, though, fell to Rudi Skacel who fired in a great effort from 20 yards which brought a brilliant save from Rangers keeper McGregor.

Hearts began the second half the same way they began the first with Templeton causing problems. On 64 minutes, Temps danced his way into the Rangers penalty box and crossed for Adrian Mrowiec. It seemed certain the Pole would score but he needed more than one touch and his effort trundled wide of the goal when it seemed easier to score. Inevitably, Rangers took full advantage and substitute Jelavic scored Rangers second when he steered home a Bocanegra cross and that was that.

Despite flashes of skill from David Templeton and the industry of Ryan Stevenson and Ian Black, it was a poor showing from the home team. Both full backs - Jamie Hamill and Danny Grainger - had days to forget while Rudi Skacel, his effort on goal apart, looked off the pace. Worryingly, Hearts look clueless up front - perhaps this is not surprising given manager Paulo Sergio's penchant for not playing any recognised centre forwards. John Sutton wasn't even on the substitute's bench today.

And, man, Hearts could have done with a presence up front.

Top man: Ryan Stevenson

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Matchstick Men (and women)

The above photograph of deeply troubled souls departing Aberdeen's Pittodrie Stadium is the banner of Kenfitlike's excellent blog Whale Oil Beef Hooked

As Ken says, if the artist LS Lowry was still around today, he would surely have taken inspiration from this image.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Pride & Passion Counts Too

There was a fair bit of hoo-ha the other week about Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez apparent refusal to come on as a second half substitute during the UEFA Champions League game with Bayern Munich. The Argentine playmaker was subsequently banned for two weeks for his actions (or lack of action)

It added further weight to the theory that some of today’s highly paid footballers in the Barclays FA Premiership have inflated egos and are in a world far removed from the working class origins that started football a century and a half ago. Many fans opined, quite rightly, that those players earning upwards of £150k per week should, at the very least, be carrying out instructions from their manager.

Those of us lucky enough to have jobs in today’s rapidly downtrodden economic climate would certainly think long and hard before refusing to carry out an instruction from our bosses. When my manager stomps towards my desk on Monday morning demanding I produce that report that should have been on his desk on Friday afternoon, I harbour a sizeable suspicion that he won’t take kindly to my response of ‘sorry, boss, I’m unable to produce that report as I’m not mentally attuned’. Like Tevez, I could run to the press and tell them my side of the story - I have personal problems, my wife has ran off with my best mate…and I miss him terribly - but a) the tabloid press wouldn’t be in the least bit interested and b) I would be handed my P45 before I made it out the office. Some footballers in today’s money laden football world think they can do whatever they please.

However, Carlos Tevez isn’t the first player to disobey an instruction from his manager. Back in season 1997/98, Dutch striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk went on strike at Nottingham Forest, apparently over the lack of signings at the club. The former Celtic player was unhappy at what he perceived to be a lack of ambition and asked for a transfer. Having just paid £4.5m for the player, Forest quite understandably, didn’t agree to his request and so the player went on strike. The Forest manager at the time, Dave Bassett, was furious and the affect it had on team morale was considerable as the team slumped to the bottom of the FA Premiership. Bassett was sacked following the team’s poor start and when Van Hooijdonk eventually returned to the team and scored against Derby County, very few of his team mates celebrated with him. He had been metaphorically sent to Coventry although even if you leave the metaphor aside it’s doubtful if City would have taken him anyway…

A surprising aside to this story emerged a couple of days later when former Manchester United player Paul Scholes revealed he once refused to play for the Red Devils in a League Cup tie ten years ago. He had been dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson for United’s previous game against Liverpool, Scholes went in, what we Scots call ‘the huff’ with his manager - a dangerous ploy given Fergie’s notorious temperament. However, Scholes soon realised the error of his ways and apologised to the manager soon after - perhaps realising his lucrative career at Old Trafford would be flushed down the pan if his foolhardy attitude persisted.

Player power can have its positive side with players bonding and showing a unity that can help a team through periods of adversity. However, selfish actions such as those displayed by Carlos Tevez are a kick in the teeth to the fans who help pay towards his considerable wages. One of the many good things about grass roots football is that such attitudes rarely exist at this level and while the football may not reach the standard of skill of Tevez and co. there’s a lot to be said for good, honest endeavour.

There’s also a lot to be said for local lads representing their local team, something supporters can associate far more easily than the here today, gone tomorrow, badge-kissing mercenaries of top-flight football. Hearts have been lucky in recent years to have had the likes of Gary Mackay and current assistant coach Gary Locke wear the Hearts shirt with pride. Perhaps they weren’t as skilful as Tevez but they played with a passion that couldn’t be matched.

I have to go now, as I’ve just received a text message from my best mate. Do I want the missus back…?

Twitter @Mike1874

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Does it Go All the Way?

I suspect not. Someone at Lothian Buses with a sense of humour!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Heart of Midlothian 2 Celtic 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 2 October 2011

A recurring theme in a book I'm working on - Hearts 50 Greatest Games (book plug number 94)  - is the inconsistency that has blighted Hearts throughout the years. It seems season 2011/12 is proving to be just like any other. After poor performances against Ayr United in the Scottish Communities League Cup and St. Johnstone in the Clydesdale Bank SPL, Hearts at last gave their long-suffering supporters something to cheer with a well-deserved victory over Celtic.

Heavy overnight rain in Edinburgh - a couple of days after temperatures in the capital were in the mid 70s - cast some doubt as to whether the game would go ahead but the Tynecastle pitch passed a 10.45am pitch inspection and battle commenced two hours later.

Hearts manager Paulo Sergio made some changes with David Templeton and Rudi Skacel coming in to give the team some much needed width. Just four minutes had gone when the hugely impressive Ryan Stevenson was left unmarked in the Celtic penalty area and the former Ayr United man's header was saved by Forster. Marius Zaliukas then hit the post with a shot from the edge of the penalty box as Hearts began to believe in themselves. However, Celtic should have taken the lead after 20 minutes but Bangura's header was not strong enough to beat Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald.

The game swung from end to end but it seemed a goal would not arrive - until the 58th minute. David Templeton struggled to control a cross from Jamie Hamill but the ball fell to Rudi Skacel who drilled it home for the opening goal. The Czech Republic star was about to be substituted but his well taken goal gave him a stay of execution. Minutes later, Celtic's Kris Commons was shown a straight red card by referee Craig Thomson after a lunge on Mrowiec and the game ran away from the visitors.

Hearts clinched a fine win ten minutes from the end when David Templeton chased a ball inside the Celtic penalty box before cleverly back-heeling a pass to Ryan Stevenson. 'Stevo' showed great composure as he took the ball round Forster before firing into the net to seal Hearts victory.

Hearts are now fourth in the Clydesdale Bank SPL. Under Paulo Sergio, The Maroons have won four games at Tynecastle and have yet to concede a goal. It's a different story altogether away from Gorgie - something the manager knows he has to address if Hearts are to make anything of this season.

Top man: Ryan Stevenson. He may not be the most gifted player ever to wear maroon, but no one works harder or is more committed. And he took his goal well.

Not Hearts v Celtic

Things you might not hear at Tynecastle this afternoon...

I love coming to Tynecastle. I have such a high regard for Hearts as a club and its supporters - Neil Lennon.

I thought the referee was immense today, he didn't put a foot wrong. He's a credit to his profession - Neil Lennon.

Right, John Sutton - you'll be the target man with Stephen Elliot and I want you, David Templeton and you, Arvydas Novikovas to stretch the Celtic defence down the wings - Paulo Sergio.

And Ian Black pulled out of that 50-50 challenge at the last minute - Sky Sports commentator.

David Obua beat four Celtic defenders before superbly lobbing the keeper for his hat-trick and Hearts fourth goal of the afternoon - Sky Sports commentator.

I'm going to run and run for 90 minutes until my lungs burst - Rudi Skacel.

I feel a bit of a twinge in my hamstring but, hey, it's nothing I won't be able to run off and I'll be fine - Andy Webster.

Okay, lads, I'm expecting a quiet afternoon with no hostility, so let's keep a low profile. Help yourself to tea and biscuits in the police commander's room as I don't think you'll be too busy - Lothian & Borders Police Chief to his officers.

Ah, Paulo. You're doing a brilliant job. I'm going to give you a five year contract and you can pick whoever you want for the team. I trust you - Vladimir Romanov.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Paul Hartley

Having been out for a couple of shandies on a Friday evening three weeks ago, I didn’t venture north for Hearts Clydesdale Bank SPL clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. I figured my delicate constitution, in its post-alcoholic state, would struggle with a three and a half hour train journey to the beautiful capital of the Highlands. Instead, I headed to Larbert to see East Stirlingshire take on a side now managed by a man still hugely popular with supporters of both Hearts and Celtic - one Paul Hartley (as used to be chanted at Tynecastle)

The man who destroyed Hibernian with a hat-trick in the Scottish Cup semi final at Hampden five and a half years ago is now player-manager of Third Division Alloa Athletic and while he opted to remain in his suit, collar and tie for the short trip to Ochilview, there’s no doubt Hartley is already exerting considerable influence over The Wasps. Alloa played a neat, passing game which some may say might prove their undoing in the hurley burley of the basement league, although it didn’t stop Livingston powering their way to the Third Division title a couple of seasons back. With former Aberdeen players Darren Young and Robbie Winters providing experience, The Wasps won 1-0 and it was interesting to see Hartley, a rookie manager, continually encouraging his players from the touchline.

It was Craig Levein who brought Paul Hartley to Tynecastle in 2003 after the former Hamilton and Millwall winger came to the end of his contract at St. Johnstone. Hartley’s 18 months at Hibernian meant he would never become an immediate pin-up hero with Hearts supporters and it’s fair to say it took a couple of years before the Glasgow born player began to make a major impact at Tynecastle. Under George Burley’s tutelage, Hartley was an essential part of Hearts midfield alongside Rudi Skacel, Julien Brellier and, later during season 2005-06, Bruno Aguiar. Hartley’s performances that season were immense, his pace with lung bursting runs from midfield causing havoc with opposition defenders. His three goals against Hibernian in that cup semi-final were, arguably, the apex of his career and the memory of him despatching a penalty kick to complete the four-goal rout before running to the adoring Hearts support with three fingers in the air remains vivid. Hartley, of course, also scored the penalty kick that defeated Aberdeen before tumultuous acclaim at Tynecastle in the penultimate league game of the season - a win that ensured Hearts finished second in the SPL and therefore clinched a place in the qualifying stages for the following season’s UEFA Champions League.

Six months later, Hartley signed for the team he supported as a boy - Celtic - in a deal worth more than a million pounds to Hearts. Perhaps even the man himself would agree that he wasn’t quite as effective during his time at Celtic Park and, after a spell back in England with Bristol City, he returned to Scotland with Aberdeen where he was made club captain. Sadly, injury meant he had to give up top-flight football at the end of last season and he accepted the opportunity to become Alloa Athletic’s player-manager during the summer.

I had hoped to see the great man in action against East Stirlingshire but, with his 35th birthday just a few weeks away, he believed the players in his team would do the business without his influence on the field. And he was right. The Wasps won the game by a solitary goal but they were never in any danger of losing and it was to their great credit they tried to play a passing game with the studious Paul Hartley analysing almost every move.

Having been relegated to the Third Division following a play-off defeat by Annan Athletic at the end of last season, Alloa are among the favourites to bounce straight back up again. Led by a man who remains a hero to thousands of Hearts supporters, I would be very surprised if The Wasps didn’t live up to expectations. Similarly, in the Irn Bru Second Division, another former Jambo, Colin Cameron - who scored the opening goal in Hearts 1998 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Rangers - is doing a fine job at Cowdenbeath.

The likes of Craig Levein, John Robertson and, of course, Jim Jefferies before them made the transition from Hearts player to Hearts manager. Given the early impression both Hartley and Cameron have made as coaches, one couldn’t rule out the possibility of a Hearts Scottish Cup hero returning to Tynecastle one day in a managerial role!

Twitter @Mike1874