Monday, 28 May 2012

Caption Teaser

                                   Photo shamelessly stolen from

What's being said at this major sporting event in Glasgow the weekend before last?

Are the Hibs players saying?

'Congratulations, Mr Skacel, that was a fine goal, sir'

'I thought you were marking him'

'I couldn't understand what Pat Fenlon was saying anyway'

'I knew I shouldn't have had that eighth pint last night'

'Ach, I'm out of here after the game anyway'

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

When It Really Matters, Hearts Are Way Ahead

There’s an old saying that déjà vu isn’t what it used to be. In 2006 when Hearts met Hibernian in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, the four-week build up to the biggest Edinburgh derby in decades was fraught. One of the worst experiences in football is losing a cup semi-final. To lose one to your city rivals simply didn’t bear thinking about. Moreover, Hearts supporters had taunted their neighbours with the oft-stated statistic that Hibernian had not won the Scottish Cup in over 100 years. They knew that if Hibs won at Hampden, they would be red-hot favourites to break that hoodoo, particularly as Second Division Gretna had upset the odds by defeating Dundee in the other semi-final played the day before. More than 40,000 fans from Scotland’s capital city made their way to Scotland’s national football stadium for the clash of the titans - and Hearts thrashed their city rivals 4-0 with former Hibby Paul Hartley hitting a hat-trick.

Six years later many Hibbies saw the William Hill Scottish Cup Final against their bigger Edinburgh neighbours as a chance for revenge, a feeling this year was their destiny. After all, the wee team’s followers opined, the last time Hibernian won the Scottish Cup - 1902 - was the last time the club had an Irish manager. Now they had Pat Fenlon and history was about to be made. And they were right in that respect - history was made on 19 May 2012.

It was billed as the greatest Edinburgh derby ever. As in 2006, there were sleepless nights aplenty as fans of both clubs contemplated the worst-case scenario - defeat from your greatest rivals in the Scottish Cup Final. Having followed Hearts for more than 40 years, experience tells me never to get even remotely cocky as far as the Maroons are concerned. The mental scars from the events at Dens Park, Dundee in 1986 will, I fear, never disappear. Being eight minutes away from winning your first league title in over a quarter of a century - needing just a single point from your final game and having been unbeaten in seven months - one could smell the scent of glory, only for Albert Kidd to kick it away from the maroon hordes in the cruellest of fashions. The Scottish Cup wins of 1998 and 2006 have helped fade those scars but those of us who stood motionless on the Dens Park terracing that day at approximately 4.40pm can never forget.

Thankfully, the younger generation of Hearts supporters have not had to suffer such acute heartache. Tee shirts declaring ’Keep Calm - It’s Only Hibs’ were selling well in the build up to the big game and there was no shortage of young ’uns read to tell me ’don’t worry, auld fella - we’ll skoosh it‘. As things transpired they were right - Hearts demolished Hibernian 5-1 in one of the most one-sided cup finals I can remember. Two goals from Czech Republic talisman Rudi Skacel added to goals from Darren Barr, Ryan McGowan and a penalty from Danny Grainger took Hearts dominance over their Edinburgh rivals to a new level and utterly humiliated the devastated Hibees. Hearts third Scottish Cup triumph in 14 years saw the maroon half of Edinburgh party - while the Hibs fans retired to their beds, some having left the National Stadium as early as 3.30pm when Skacel put Hearts two goals ahead.

Those tee shirts were spot on - I needn’t have worried, it was only Hibs. Yet, strangely, I almost felt cheated as if Hibs total ineptitude had let me down too. By that, I mean the elation of the full time whistle blowing and the realisation that Hearts had won the cup had been doused slightly by the fact the game was all over after less than an hour, by which time Hearts were already 4-1 ahead and Hibs a man down (even if that man was Pa Kujabi, an apology for a football player even by Hibs standards) Against Rangers in 1998 and Gretna in 2006, Hearts had been taken to the wire. My heart was in my mouth at Celtic Park 14 years ago when it looked like Rangers were about to get a last minute penalty kick to level the scores - only for referee Willie Young to award a free-kick on the edge of the penalty box. And eight years later, I watched Hearts penalty shoot-out triumph over Second Division Gretna with fingers partly covering my eyes. The tension on both occasions was unbearable. Not so this time around as Hearts demolished their capital city rivals in a fashion that is fast becoming a custom. Hearts New Year win at Easter Road, for example, was 3-1 going on 6-1.

The downside for Hearts was the departure of midfield maestro Ian Black, Stephen Elliott and Gary Glen and the uncertainty over the future of Skacel, Andrew Driver, Suso Santana and even the manager Paulo Sergio. However, Hearts fans have seen all this before. It didn’t take long for the cup winning teams of 1998 and 2006 to break up and Hearts came back each time. They will do so again, of that I’m sure.

For now, let’s just savour the biggest Edinburgh derby triumph of all time. Hibs may have won league games of little importance by 7-0 in 1973 and 6-2 in 2002 but Hearts have proved, yet again, when it comes to the big games that really matter, they are a class above the little club with two stands too many from Leith.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Heart of Midlothian 5 (five) Hibernian 1

William Hill Scottish Cup Final - Saturday 19 May 2012 - Hampden Park

As was the case before the all Edinburgh semi-final in 2006, the build-up to the first Scottish Cup Final between Hearts and Hibs since 1896 was full of tension. Hearts were installed by the bookmakers as odds on favourites but several players, including Ian Black and talisman Rudi Skacel, were looking unlikely to be continuing their careers at Tynecastle, as there were no offers of any new contracts on the table. Semi-final hero Craig Beattie had been nursing a hamstring injury and wasn’t included in the starting eleven. Hibernian, who had only just managed to avoid relegation, had several players who were on loan, including striker Leigh Griffiths who had scored their winner in the semi-final win over Aberdeen.

A crowd of over 51,000 packed into Hampden and the tension was palpable as the teams walked on to the field. It was Hearts, however, who made the brighter start and good work from Andrew Driver saw a cross for Rudi Skacel but the Czech Republic player could not direct his header on target. If Hearts were nervous they certainly didn’t show it during that opening period as they pinned their city rivals inside their own half. With 15 minutes gone, the breakthrough arrived. A corner from Danny Grainger seemed to bemuse the Hibs defence. Ryan McGowan showed commitment to get to the ball first and his attempt at goal fell at the feet of Darren Barr who stabbed the ball past Hibs goalkeeper Brown and into the net to give Hearts a deserved lead. Already in the ascendancy, Hearts confidence grew further. Shortly after the goal, Hibs defender Kujabi was booked for a foul on Santana - a foul that would have major implications later. Ian Black was dominant for Hearts and it seemed astonishing that Hibs were allowing the former Inverness Caledonian Thistle player so much space to orchestrate the Hearts midfield. It was from Black’s pass that Rudi Skacel doubled the Maroon’s lead after 27 minutes. Collecting the ball on the edge of the Hibs penalty box, Skacel produced a trademark turn past McPake before firing in a shot that took a deflection off the Hibs player before flying past Brown. 2-0 to Hearts and the Maroon Army erupted in anticipation of another Hearts cup triumph. Hibs had barely been in the game and when striker O’Connor had a chance on the edge of the Hearts penalty box, his effort on goal soared over the bar and in among the goading Hearts fans in the West Stand. Hearts nearly made it game over when Suso Santana’s effort on goal was scrambled off the line by McPake. And, typical of Hearts, what should have been 3-0 turned into 2-1 as Hibs grabbed an unexpected lifeline a minute before half time when McPake poked home Soare’s cross. At half time, there was slight irritation among the Hearts camp that the game was now on a knife-edge after dominating the game.

The second half had a spectacular start. In the 47th minute, Suso Santana set off on a run down the right wing skipping easily past a couple of Hibs challenges. He had his shirt pulled by the pursuing Kujabi who also clipped the Spaniard’s heels as the winger danced into the penalty box. Penalty said referee Craig Thomson who also booked the Hibs player for a second time meaning the Easter Road team were down to ten men. They also went 3-1 down when Danny Grainger stroked home the resultant penalty kick and looked to the skies in tribute to his late grandfather.

Any lingering doubts that the Scottish Cup was heading back to Gorgie disappeared two minutes later when Hibs keeper Brown could only parry Stephen Elliott’s header and Ryan McGowan leapt to head the ball home. 4-1 to Hearts - and it was game over, a fact the mass exodus of Hibs fans at this point clearly indicated.

Hearts seemed content to toy with their great rivals and sprayed passes all over the Hampden turf, much to the delight of the baying Jambo Army. With 15 minutes to go, Rudi Skacel collected the ball on the edge of the penalty box and fired in an effort and that trundled past Brown to make it an astonishing 5-1 to Hearts. Ecstatic Hearts supporters taunted those few Hibs fans who were still in the National Stadium with chants of ‘ole’ and ‘we want six’ and ‘there’s only one Pat Fenlon’. This was too much for the Hibernian manager who made an ill-judged salute with his arm to the Hearts support - and was duly sent to the stand by referee Craig Thomson for his troubles.

The game ended at Heart of Midlothian 5 Hibernian 1. I had waited 30 years to see Hearts win a trophy before they won the Scottish Cup in 1998; this was Hearts third Scottish Cup triumph in 14 years and was the sweetest of them all. Hearts had dominated the Edinburgh derby for nearly 30 years but this magnificent victory over an admittedly very poor Hibernian team took derby domination and humiliation of their city rivals to new levels.

As in 1998 and 2006, the west end of Edinburgh partied. As the Maroon Army bellowed throughout this glorious weekend, the Hearts were having a party - the Hibs were in their beds!

Hearts 50 Greatest Games, available from all good bookshops from 1 August, will include this game.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Heart of Midlothian 2 St. Johnstone 0

Clydesdale Bank SPL, Sunday 6 May 2012 - Tynecastle

Hearts last home game of season 2011/12 saw a rare victory in Gorgie over a St. Johnstone side who have become something of a bogey for Hearts in recent years. The Saints knocked Hearts out of the Scottish Cup in Edinburgh last season, drew in a cup tie earlier this year (although Hearts won the replay in Perth) and won on their last visit to Gorgie on SPL business in December. This time round, however, Hearts always looked in control and recorded a comfortable win which enabled Paulo Sergio's side to leapfrog the Perth Saints to 5th place in the Clydesdale Bank SPL.

Hearts took the lead after 16 minutes following fine play by Ryan McGowan. The Australian full back may be a bit rough round the edges but I've always been impressed by his whole-hearted approach and commitment. His cross into the Saints penalty box found Rudi Skacel and the Czech Republic star - Hearts leading goalscorer - steered the ball past goalkeeper Mannus to put Hearts 1-0 ahead. Skacel had a chance to double Hearts lead soon after but contrived to balloon his effort into the Roseburn Stand. Skipper Marius Zaliukas also missed a glorious opportunity, heading over when it seemed easier to score.

St. Johnstone looked dangerous on the counter-attack and the introduction of Hibby Derek Riordan as a second half substitute was warmly greeted by the home support, eager to show their appreciation for the former Hibs striker...

Hearts scored another 12 minutes into the second half when Andy Webster slid home Danny Grainger's cross and the contest was effectively over. A vital win for Hearts as 5th place in the Clydesdale Bank SPL will mean a place in next season's Europa League.

Top man: Sad to see Darren Barr leave the field due to injury - the former Falkirk player has been a revelation in his midfield role in recent weeks.