Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Heart of Midlothian 2 St. Mirren 1

SPFL, Wednesday 29 January 2014 – Tynecastle

After finally reaching the positive points tally after last Saturday’s fine victory at Ross County, there was a degree of optimism at Tynecastle on Wednesday evening as Hearts played out a re-arranged SPFL Premiership fixture with St. Mirren. This game should have been played this coming weekend but as Hearts are on League Cup semi-final business on Sunday, the game was brought forward – thus enabling Ryan Stevenson to complete his two match suspension and make him available for the semi-final at Easter Road (assuming he hasn’t moved on by then…)

The optimism was justified as Hearts recorded a second SPFL win in a row for the first time this season, despite losing a goal in the opening minute. Goals from Callum Paterson and Jamie Hamill gave the Maroons their first win at Tynecastle since August and put the Gorgie faithful in a positive frame of mind before Sunday’s big semi-final.

On a bitterly cold evening, those same Hearts supporters were given a bitter pill to swallow after just 30 seconds. St. Mirren attacked straight from kick-off and Naismith’s cross found Thompson who easily outjumped two home defenders to head powerfully home into the corner.

Hearts looked momentarily stunned but it took them just three minutes to equalise. Sam Nicholson, impressive at Dingwall on Saturday, fed David Smith whose cross was headed home by Callum Paterson – the big striker’s second goal in as many games. It has to be said former Hearts keeper Marian Kello looked less than clever when Smith’s cross came in but the home support were delighted.  

The impressive Nicholson produced a piece of magic after 12 minutes and his cross found Paterson whose headed looked a winner until Kello redeemed himself by palming the ball over the crossbar.

However, the Paisley Saints almost regained the lead ten minutes before the break when McGinn’s header crashed off the crossbar. Half-time arrived with the teams on level terms.

Hearts began the second half in determined fashion and almost took the lead just three minutes in when Danny Wilson’s header clipped the crossbar. Sixty seconds later, Hearts were awarded a penalty kick when Dale Carrick’s run towards goal was halted abruptly by St. Mirren’s McAusland in the penalty box. Red card for the Saints defender, penalty kick for Hearts and Jamie Hamill did his usual expert job to put the Maroons ahead.

Despite being a man and a goal ahead, Hearts seemed to retreat into their shells a little and the visitors had more of the play which they weren’t entitled to expect given their numerical disadvantage.

Hearts did hit the post in the 73rd minute when Carrick got on to a flick from McKay but it was the visitors who looked more threatening. Indeed, Danny Lennon’s team had a golden opportunity to draw parity with six minutes to go when Thompson elected to hit a first time effort from the edge of the penalty box when he perhaps had more time them he thought.

The final chance of the evening came to Hearts Scott Robinson whose effort from fully 30 yards was well saved by Kello.

The final whistle blew soon after and Hearts had secured another league win. By doing so they avoided an unwanted record – failure to record a victory would have meant Hearts would have gone 10 successive league games at Tynecastle without recording a win – something that has befallen no Hearts team in their near 140 year history.  They now move on to five points at the foot of the SPFL – and in confident mood ahead of Sunday’s League Cup semi-final.

Hearts: MacDonald; McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McHattie; Smith, Robinson, Hamill, Nicholson, Carrick, Paterson.

St Mirren: Kello; Naismith, McAusland, McGregor, Kelly; Newton, McGinn, Goodwin, McGowan, Campbell, Thomson.

Att: 12,422

Referee: Steven McLean

Top man: The hard-working Callum Paterson

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Ross County 1 Heart of Midlothian 2

SPFL, Saturday 25 January 2014 – Global Energy Stadium

There has been much speculation in social media circles this week about the latest homecoming of the prodigal son to Tynecastle. Following the news that the SPFL will consider the possibility of Hearts bringing new players to Tynecastle on a one in, one out basis, the potential transfer of Adam King to Swansea has been seen as the key to Gorgie legend Rudi Skacel joining Hearts for a third time. Whether this story has any substance or not – although the player’s girlfriend has been dropping heavy hints on Twitter this week – it seems to have triggered a resurgence in feelings of optimism on Gorgie Road (even if the 21 point gap at the foot of the table before Saturday’s trip to the Highlands looked insurmountable)

After last week’s dramatic salvaging of a point from the jaws of defeat in Perth, Gary Locke’s young Hearts side went one better on Saturday afternoon and recorded their first win in the SPFL since their unexpected but nonetheless impressive 3-1 win at Aberdeen on 9 November.

More than 500 Hearts made the long journey to Dingwall on a day when you wouldn’t send a dog out and their continuing loyalty to the club was rewarded when Scott Robinson scored a late winner to record an impressive 2-1 win over Ross County, who had not lost a game in 2014 until Saturday.

Hearts manager Gary Locke made two changes to the team with impressive youngster Sam Nicholson replacing the suspended Ryan Stevenson and Scott Robinson in for Callum Tapping.

Hearts weren’t slow in taking an early command of the game and had chances aplenty in an entertaining first half. Sam Nicholson had an early chance before David Smith’s effort smacked off the post with Dale Carrick and Calum Paterson also coming close. The home side seemed lethargic and struggling to cope with the visitor’s pace. Hearts were creating chances but there was concern these opportunities weren’t being taken. However, eight minutes before half-time, the Gorgie boys scored the goal their play fully deserved. David Smith’s corner was knocked on to Callum Paterson who netted from close range. However, if the vociferous travelling support thought their side would go in at half-time a goal to the good they were sadly mistaken. Just on the half-time whistle, a free-kick into the Hearts penalty box found Songo’o and the on-loan defender from Blackburn Rovers sent a powerful header beyond Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald to level the scores at the break.

In the second half it was the home side who began to take command of the game and for ten minute period they pinned Hearts in their own half. However, for all their possession, the Staggies only really threatened Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald once when goalscorer Songo’o fired in a long range effort which the Gorgie number one saved well.

With the game heading for a draw there would have been some Hearts supporters thinking back to 23 November and their team’s last visit to Dingwall when the Tynecastle team led 1-0 with three minutes to go only to lose 2-1. This fixture has a habit of producing late goals and so it proved again on Saturday – only, this time, it was the team from the capital city who triumphed. With ten minutes left, David Smith’s cross was only partly dealt with by home keeper Fraser. The industrious Scott Robinson latched on to the loose ball and steered it into the net from around eight yards. Joy for the young Hearts players and travelling support and Hearts may well have had a third when Kevin McHattie set off on a mazy run towards the County goal only to see his shot saved by Fraser.

When the final whistle blew moments later, Hearts had clinched three points. They may not be valuable, given the gap at the foot of the table is now 19 points, but they were very welcome nonetheless and meant Gary Locke’s side have now wiped out the 15 point deficit imposed on them at the start of the season after going into administration.

After the game, an upbeat Gary Locke gave his assessment of the game.

“It was a fantastic performance" said the manager, “County had a little spell just after half-time but I felt by then we might have been three or four goals up. I’m delighted for the boys because they've worked really hard all season and they've never really got the rewards they deserved, but today it was a fantastic performance and a fantastic result. One thing about these boys is that they never give up. We’re all now looking forward to a big week ahead”

The long journey back was a happy one for those magnificent Hearts supporters as they contemplate Wednesday’s re-arranged SPFL Premiership fixture with St. Mirren at Tynecastle and, more importantly, next weekend’s Scottish League Cup semi-final tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road. Given Hearts financial situation, reaching the League Cup final could prove crucial.

After last week’s comeback at St. Johnstone, perhaps Edinburgh’s finest are beginning to find form at just the right time.

Ross County: Fraser, Gordon, Songo’o, Brittain, McLean, Oikonomou, Kiss, Tidser, Arquin, Slew, Carey

Hearts: MacDonald, McHattie, McKay, Hamill, Wilson, McGowan, Smith, Carrick, Paterson, Robinson, Nicholson.

Att: 4,016

Referee: Kevin Clancy

Top man: The impressive Sam Nicholson – this man has a bright future.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

St. Johnstone 3 Heart of Midlothian 3

SPFL, Saturday 18 January 2014 – McDiarmid Park

If you’re among those experiencing the ‘January Blues’ – the post-Christmas and New Year period where it’s dark, cold, you’re back at work with no money and precious little positivity to keep you going until payday, spare a thought for the supporters of Heart of Midlothian. With their team 20 points adrift at the foot of the SPFL Premiership table before Saturday’s game against St. Johnstone - meaning it’s a question of when, not if, for relegation -  it’s been difficult to find any joy among those of the maroon persuasion for a few months now. Yet, several hundred of them made the trip to Perth on Saturday in another remarkable display of loyalty. And it was to turn out to be a remarkable afternoon for the Maroon Army.

Skipper Danny Wilson returned to the Hearts team following illness and Gary Locke’s side began the game brightly. Ryan Stevenson fired in a long range effort after just two minutes which was saved by St Johnstone keeper Mannus. Hearts, in what was assistant coach Billy Brown’s last game, continued to look lively but it was the home side who almost took the lead when Davidson back heeled May’s cross which was saved by Jamie MacDonald.

In the 20th minute, Hearts Dale Carrick collected an intended pass back by Saints McDonald and headed for goal. The Hearts youngster was felled by Anderson and as this denied the visitors a goal scoring opportunity, the home defender was shown a red card.

With a one man numerical advantage, one might have expected Hearts to make the running, so to speak. Although they had plenty possession, the Gorgie men – or should that be boys – didn’t really threaten Mannus in the home goal. And, as so often happens, the ten men took the lead when Kevin McHattie fouled Hasselbaink. The offence looked outside the penalty box but referee Brian Colvin decreed it a penalty kick from which May converted to put the home side a goal in front at the interval.

If Gary Locke and Billy Brown were left to rue the way the first half ended, they were apoplectic at the way the second half began. Just four minutes had gone when May found himself through on Jamie MacDonald. The Hearts number one produced a fine save from May’s initial effort but the Perth striker clattered into the goalie before getting his toe to the ball to steer it into the net. 2-0 to the ten men.

Even with numerical advantage, it was looking pretty hopeless for Hearts at this stage. However, on the hour mark, Kevin McHattie crossed for Dale Carrick to head home for the visitors. A glimmer of hope for Hearts but this seemed to be extinguished just three minutes later when McHattie was deemed to have handled the ball inside the penalty box. Penalty kick number two for the home team and goal number two for Steve May which put the Perth Saints 3-1 ahead.

Some Hearts supporters headed for the exit at this stage but those who remained witnessed an astonishing end to the game. After Brad McKay’s 30 yard screamer was palmed away by Mannus, substitute Sam Nicholson and the always dangerous Dale Carrick produced more fine saves from the Saints keeper.

There were just three minutes remaining when Nicholson pulled a goal back for Hearts after a scramble in the goalmouth. Seconds later, Ryan Stevenson and Saints keeper Mannus were red carded after appearing to trade punches with each other. Having used all three substitutes permitted, St. Johnstone pushed outfield player Scobbie in goal. This was the signal for Hearts to charge forward. Callum Paterson thought he had equalised only to see his header come back off the crossbar and it seemed the home side would escape. However, they reckoned without Hearts skipper Danny Wilson who headed home the equaliser deep into stoppage time to the joy of the visiting fans.

An astonishing game ended 3-3 and while Hearts remain on negative points, it was heartening to see the Maroons refusing to give up despite being two goals down to a spirited St. Johnstone team.

It may be fanciful to suggest this game was a dress rehearsal for the League Cup final in a couple of months. Nonetheless, given the dramatic events in Perth on Saturday, anything is possible!

St. Johnstone: Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Wright, Scobbie, Millar, McDonald, Davidson, Croft, May, Hasselbaink.

Hearts: MacDonald, McKay, Wilson, McGowan, McHattie, Carrick, Hamill, Tapping, Smith, Stevenson, Paterson

Att: 3,395

Referee: Brian Colvin

Top man: The lively Dale Carrick.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Billy Brown Leaves Hearts

Hearts have announced that assistant manager Billy Brown is to leave the club. Brown, 63, is in his third spell at Tynecastle having assisted previous manager and close friend Jim Jefferies on two previous occasions.

Hearts announced the decision on their official website, stating ‘a need to maintain financial prudence, therefore a reduction in football costs was required.’

A club spokesperson said: "We would like to put on record our gratitude to Billy for his sterling efforts in helping Gary since his arrival in July. He has been of considerable assistance to Hearts over the last six months and we know he appreciates the need to refresh the team coupled with the need for continued financial prudence. We wish him well in the future."

Brown had volunteered his services at the beginning of the season, having left the manager’s post at East Fife at the end of last season. He then signed a short-term deal. Despite his obvious disappointment at not having his contract at Tynecastle extended, Brown urged the supporters to continue backing Gary Locke and the team, saying: "I am very disappointed my contract will not be renewed but that is the way things are at the club and I have to accept that.

"I was really pleased when I was asked to assist Gary at the start of the season. Having worked with Gary as a player over a great number of years I was always of the opinion that he had the making of a top manager and I've seen nothing to change my mind. The way he has handled a very difficult situation has been magnificent. I urge all supporters to get behind Gary and the team for the remainder of the season and would like to thank everybody who has helped me, especially the players and staff whose spirit remains remarkable."

Brown’s final appearance in the Hearts dugout will be for this weekend’s trip to St. Johnstone in the SPFL Premiership. Hearts stated they would not be seeking a replacement which may well mean Under 21 coach Robbie Neilson assisting Locke with first team matters.

There is speculation that should Hearts sell youngster Adam King to FA Premiership side Swansea City – the Welsh side have reportedly offered £250,000 for the youngster – this would open the door for the return to Tynecastle of the prodigal son, Rudi Skacel. However, any such move would not be able to take place before 1 February and Czech born Skacel is presently considering an offer from his old friend and former Hearts playing partner Paul Hartley to play for Alloa Athletic.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

East Stirlingshire 2 Peterhead 0

SPFL 2nd Division - Saturday 11 January 2014 - Ochilview

In search of a competitive game of  football, I passed on going to Tynecastle on Saturday and instead headed to sunny Larbert and my first visit of the season to see East Stirlingshire, my 'significant other' team in Scottish football.

The visitors to Ochilview were Second Division league leaders Peterhead, managed by former Shire manager Jim McInally. The former Dundee United player is presently banned from the dugout and so took his place among the 310 fans in the small stand. It was pleasing to see him chat not only with the Peterhead fans who made the journey south but some of the Shire fans who held him in high esteem not so long ago.

Peterhead shared, along with Celtic and Rangers, the status of being unbeaten in the league this season. However, this admirable run came to an end on Saturday thanks to a spirited showing by the home side.

It has to be said the Blue Toon dominated the game and in the opening minutes they were denied the first goal by a quite brilliant save from Shire keeper Grant Hay, who was in inspired form all afternoon. However, Shire took the lead in the 14th minute when Christopher Townsley headed home Jamie Glasgow's corner somewhat against the run of play.

Resolute defending from the home team kept Peterhead at bay and the hosts doubled their lead seven minutes into the second half when Iain Thomson's pass found David Greenhill and, despite pleas for offside from the Peterhead players and fans, the Shire man finished superbly to the joy of the loyal home support.

The second goal gave the home side the belief they could be the first team to defeat Peterhead in the league this season and, indeed, they may well have added to their lead but for former Rangers keeper Graeme Smith in the Peterhead goal. However, there was no further scoring and the Shire duly celebrated a fine win, a result which puts them back in the hunt for a promotion play-off place.

It was an enjoyable afternoon, as it always is at Ochilview.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that East Stirlingshire will still be in the hunt for promotion come the end of the season. I'll certainly be supporting them in their quest.

One thing that did bemuse me when I headed back to Larbert railway station. Not only were the Christmas lights still up in Stenhousemuir's town centre - they were switched on! Someone ought to tell the local council Christmas is over....

East Stirlingshire - Hay, Herd, Maxwell, Greenhill, Townsley, Bolochoweckyj, MacGregor, Thomsom, Miller, Glasgow, Wright

Peterhead - Smith, Sharp, McCann, Redman, Noble, Ross, Rodgers, Cowie, Gilfillan, McAllister, Strachan
Att: 310
Referee: George Salmond
Top man: Grant Hay

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Heart of Midlothian 0 Motherwell 1

SPFL, Saturday 11 January 2014 – Tynecastle

Hearts plea to the SPFL to lift the signing embargo imposed on them will be heard by the Hampden suits early next week. Desperate times call for desperate measures and if anyone was in any doubt about how desperate Hearts are, they need only have been at Tynecastle Stadium on Saturday.

With sources depleted, Gary Locke was again struggling to field a team with Callum Tapping the latest injury problem added to a list that already contained Danny Wilson, Jason Holt and Mark Ridgers. Tapping had been struggling with a bug all week but such is the casualty list at Tynecastle, the former Tottenham Hotspur player was named as a substitute. Defender Kevin McHattie started the game not fully fit and it was a gamble that didn’t pay off as the youngster was forced to leave the field after an hour. Locke also opted for Jamie Walker to sit alongside Tapping on the bench meaning a rare start for Dale Carrick.

Watching Hearts this season, particularly at Tynecastle, has been akin to watching the film Groundhog Day – it’s the same recurring nightmare, except on a fortnightly basis rather than a daily one. Certainly the beleaguered supporters must have been thinking ‘here we go again’ after just two minutes when Jordan McGhee sliced his attempted clearance and the ball seemed to spinning towards the Hearts net for the opening goal. However, as he has been so often this season, keeper Jamie MacDonald pushed the ball away and the majority of the near 13,000 crowd - another mightily impressive attendance given what’s going on in Gorgie this season – heaved a sigh of relief.

While there was plenty of effort on show, chances were few and far between for either team. Motherwell’s Ainsworth had a couple of chances, one of which produced another fine save from Jamie Mac. However, the keeper was unable to prevent the visitors taking the lead five minutes before half time. Former Hearts striker John Sutton moved on to a through pass and fired home from a tight angle - albeit there was a deflection from Hearts Dylan McGowan - to give The Steelmen the lead. As the Hearts players trooped off the field at half time a goal down, it was difficult to see where the equalising goal would come from.

There may have been a few words of ‘advice’ from Gary Locke at the break because Hearts looked a much more determined side in the second half. Ryan Stevenson’s cross-come-shot smacked off the crossbar before the industrious David Smith’s 30 yard effort tested Motherwell keeper Neilsen. This seemed to inspire the home team who began to dominate the game.

Stevenson had another effort from 25 yards which Neilsen pushed over the bar before substitute Jamie Walker fired in a shot which was just over. Hearts continued to push forward and the home crowd were encouraged by their team at least looking threatening. However, the visitors were always dangerous on the counter-attack and Anier’s effort on goal was well saved by MacDonald who then denied Sutton the chance of a second goal a few minutes later.

Hearts best chance came late in the game when Stevenson’s cross landed at the feet of Jamie Hamill but the former Kilmarnock player couldn’t control the ball and his effort on goal was blocked by the Motherwell defence.

When Hearts were denied a late penalty claim when the ball appeared to strike the arm of a Motherwell defender, the home support realised it was to be another day with no goals and no points.

Hearts are now 20 points adrift at the foot of the league. Their appeal to the SPFL for clemency will be heard on Monday. It’s unlikely to succeed. In any case, even if Hearts signed Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, the deficit is too great now to save this great club from demotion.

Hearts: MacDonald; McGhee, McKay, McGowan, McHattie, Paterson, Hamill, Robinson, Smith, Carrick, Stevenson.

Motherwell: Nielsen, Hammell, Ramsden, Hutchinson, McManus, McFadden, Sutton, Vigurs, Lasley, Carswell, Ainsworth.

Referee: Willie Collum

Att: 12,888

Top man: Jamie MacDonald – again.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Heart of Midlothian 0 Partick Thistle 2

SPFL, Sunday 5 January 2014 – Tynecastle

2013 was a miserable year for Hearts and their supporters. A host of experienced players left the club, there was huge disappointment in losing the League Cup final to St. Mirren in March and the club plunged into administration in June. The latter incident had huge ramifications with Hearts beginning season 2013/14 with a 15 point deduction in the SPFL – a handicap they’ve been unable to overcome thus far.

2014 hasn't started any better – defeat in the Edinburgh derby from Hibernian at Easter Road on just the second day of the year. With the gap at the foot of the SPFL Premiership table widening instead of reducing and relegation for the first time in over 30 years now a near certainty for Hearts, it was a somewhat disillusioned Hearts support who trudged along to Tynecastle for the first home game of the year.

True to form of late, Hearts produced another dismal performance as Partick Thistle easily recorded their first win at Tynecastle since 1995 thanks to first half goals from Taylor and Taylor-Sinclair.

Hearts were without the suspended Jamie Hamill with David Smith finding a starting place following his decent showing at Easter Road on Thursday. Skipper Danny Wilson was still out, a huge blow coupled with Hamill’s enforced absence.

After an early chance for the home side - Ryan Stevenson’s effort couldn’t get past Thistle keeper Fox – it was an unlucky 13th minute for Hearts as the visitors took the lead. A long ball should have been dealt with by home defender Dylan McGowan but he was easily muscled out by Taylor who poked the ball past Jamie MacDonald from six yards. The groans from the frustrated home support told its own story.

Ryan Stevenson had a half-hearted effort on goal after 35 minutes but, if truth be told, it was a poor game with neither side looking as if they could string more than two passes together. Six minutes before half time, Thistle doubled their lead. From a corner kick, Taylor-Sinclair had the freedom of Gorgie Road to head home and put the Jags 2-0 ahead at half time.

There was at least some improvement from Hearts in the second half although given their woeful first half display this was hardly difficult. David Smith produced a fine cross after the restart which Stevenson headed just over before Callum Tapping hit the crossbar from 30 yards out. Despite a better showing, Hearts just could not find a way past the Thistle defence even when the visitors were reduced to ten men nine minutes from the end when Bannigan was shown a second yellow card by referee Iain Brines.

The game ended with a cacophony of boos from those Hearts fans who stayed until the end of the game. Their loyalty to their club shows no sign of abating – the attendance of 13,763 at Tynecastle was 5,000 more than any other SPFL game this weekend – but even the diehard fans now realise the writing is on the wall for Hearts hopes of defying the odds and remaining in the top flight of Scottish football. Hearts manager Gary Locke seemed to acknowledge this after the final whistle.

 “It was a sore one to take” said the Hearts boss. “I’ve said to the players we need to play for 90 minutes not just for 45. There’s no doubt we’re up against it but I won’t accept relegation until it’s mathematically impossible to avoid. But we can’t afford to feel sorry for ourselves. We have another game next week and we’ll need to defend better. That first half performance today was just unacceptable.”

Hearts: MacDonald; McGhee, McKay, McGowan, McHattie; Smith, Tapping, Robinson, Walker, Stevenson, Paterson

Partick Thistle: Fox, O'Donnell, Taylor-Sinclair, Muirhead, Balatoni, Craigen, Bannigan, Lawless, Piccolo, Taylor, Higginbotham

Referee: Iain Brines

Att: 13,763

Top man: David Smith



That Was The Year That Was

So farewell, then, 2013. To say last year wasn’t the best in the long, proud history of Heart of Midlothian FC is like saying Ryan Stevenson is fond of a tattoo. If you’re like me you’ll have had your full of reviews of the year just gone by. But before I consume the last drop of that bottle of malt whisky from Aunt Ann (thanks, Ann!) and I throw out that half finished packet of shortbread, permit me, if you will, to share my highlights – and lowlights – of 2013.

Best moment – 2013 began in positive fashion, despite a heavy defeat from Celtic. Hearts defeated Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the semi-final of the League Cup and I remember walking to my home in Leith from Easter Road on a high. There was another cup final to look forward to. However, my favourite moment of 2013 was when Hearts, stranded at foot of the SPFL thanks to a 15 point deduction for going into administration during the summer, defeated Hibernian 1-0 at Tynecastle in August. Callum Paterson’s fine header to secure three valuable points put the gas of the goading visiting support at a low peep!

Emotional High – In a similar vein to the aforementioned victory over Hibernian, Hearts 2-1 victory over Aberdeen at Tynecastle a fortnight later brought a lump to my throat. Hearts had been reduced to ten men when Kevin McHattie was red-carded and with Dons pressing hard for a winner with the game delicately poised at 1-1, Hearts were awarded a free-kick a minute from the end. When young Jordan McGhee headed the winner, there was pandemonium at Tynecastle. Gary Locke’s boys had reduced the deficit at the bottom of the league to just nine points and we were still in August. I left Tynecastle that day with tears in my eyes as I genuinely felt this young Hearts team would produce one of the greatest escape acts ever.

Victory Against All Odds – When Hearts were paired with Hibernian in the quarter final of the League Cup at Easter Road in October, there was no shortage of Hibbies telling me their side would exact revenge for the 5-1 Scottish Cup Final hammering of 2012. Hibs seemed to be recovering after a slow start to the season while Hearts had slipped into reverse gear. Despite this, the away end at Easter Road was packed but it was all Hibs in the opening 25 minutes with Hearts goalkeeper supreme Jamie MacDonald pulling off a couple of breath-taking saves to keep the home side at bay. Then, having been barely able to get out of their own half, Hearts scored the only goal of the game thanks to a stunning effort from Ryan Stevenson. I walked home on air that night. Strangely, my Leith neighbours mostly seemed to be in their beds – the Leith Jambos, however, were having a party…

Lowest Point – Hearts 7-0 defeat from Celtic in the William Hill Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle last month. No more needs to be said…

Funniest Moment – ‘Paterson’ growled auld Bill who sits next to me in the Wheatfield Stand, ‘you might as well be sitting next tae me, ya lazy big galoot’ before the Hearts centre forward spun in the penalty box and fired a brilliant shot past the Ross County goalkeeper to level the score. ‘Ach, Calum, well played son, you’re bloody brilliant!’ shouts Bill who has more faces than the toon clock…

Great Unexpectations – When Hearts went a goal behind at Aberdeen in November, the huge travelling support collectively crossed their arms and thought ‘here we go again’. But when the Dons had Barry Robson sent off, the young Hearts stormed back to win 3-1 in the Granite City, arguably Hearts best result of the season thus far.

Biggest disappointment – The League Cup final with St. Mirren in March was a disappointing day pretty much from start to finish. Most of us had hopes of Hearts lifting their second trophy in ten months but a repeat of the hammering of the Hibees was never going to happen. In stark contrast to that game, the League Cup final was on a Sunday, it was teeming with rain for most of the day and it was standing room only on the train back from Glasgow – what seems like the longest journey in the world when you’re going via Shotts. And, if course, Hearts lost…

Hope in our Hearts – Despite the anguish felt for much of the year, Hearts supporters can take solace in the emergence of some of the brightest young talent in Scotland. The likes of Jamie Walker, Calum Paterson, Brad McKay, Kevin McHattie and Jordan McGhee have bright futures. Hope remains strong that Hearts can exit administration before the end of the season and, with a bit of luck, an experienced head or two can be added to the squad during the summer. We may be playing in the Championship next season but, debt free and with big games against Rangers fuelling the imagination, I believe the fans will continue their fantastic support and continue to back the team in their droves. I’m old enough to recall the first time Hearts were relegated in 1977 and the magnificent backing the supporters gave the club the following season. I sense this again. We may have to suffer some pain in the months ahead but I firmly believe that this time next year a vibrant, new-look Hearts will be fighting it out with Rangers for promotion back to the SPFL.

Happy New Year, folks – and, as someone once said, believe!



Portugal football legend Eusebio, who was top scorer at the 1966 World Cup, has died at the age of 71. Born in Mozambique in 1942 when it was still a Portuguese colony, Eusebio da Silva Ferreira went on to play 64 times for Portugal, scoring 41 goals.

The Benfica striker's nine goals at the 1966 World Cup in England included four against North Korea. Widely considered one of the best players of all-time, he scored 733 times in 745 professional matches.  He had been admitted to hospital several times over the past year for the treatment of heart and respiratory problems.

Famed for his blistering acceleration and dazzling dribbling skills, Eusebio was named European Footballer of the Year in 1965. He won the European Cup with Benfica in 1962 and was in the side that lost to Manchester United in the 1968 Wembley final.

Eusebio enjoyed 10 league championship victories and five Portuguese cup triumphs in his 15 years at the club and was Portugal's top league scorer seven times. Eusebio's goals in the 1966 World Cup helped his country to third place, after they were beaten by eventual winners England in the semi-finals.

Portugal won all of their group games as title holders Brazil were eliminated in the first round, and Eusebio starred in a dramatic 5-3 win over North Korea in the quarter-finals, with his four goals helping his side come back from 3-0 down.

Portugal went on to lose 2-1 in the last four to England, with Eusebio in tears as he left the pitch at the end of the game. But he had captured the hearts of the British public and his figure was soon added to Madame Tussaud's waxwork collection.

Eusebio continued to play at the highest level until 1974, but knee problems had already begun to slow him down. In 1975, he moved to the North American Soccer League and then returned to Portugal in 1976-77 to play for SC Beira Mar, before further spells in the USA and Mexico.

After his playing career ended, he was an ambassador for Benfica and Portuguese football.

From the BBC News website