Saturday, 22 February 2014

Heart of Midlothian 0 Celtic 2

SPFL, Saturday 22 February 2014 – Tynecastle

Hearts mini-revival in the SPFL Premiership – Gary Locke’s side were on an unbeaten run of four games – came to an end at Tynecastle on Saturday when league champions Celtic extended their lead at the top of the league to an astonishing 24 points with a 2-0 victory.

Given Hearts miserable season and the result the last time Neil Lennon’s team visited Gorgie – a 7-0 thrashing in the Scottish Cup in December – few of the home support expected their side to take anything from a team still to taste defeat in the league this season. However, this was a much-improved showing from the young Maroons and allowed a smidgeon of optimism to return to the Gorgie faithful.

Locke made two changes from the team that won a hard-earned point in Inverness last Saturday with Callum Paterson and Kevin McHattie restored to the side.

Hearts looked determined to ensure they wouldn’t be on the end of another seven goal hiding and gave Celtic as good as they got in the first half. As expected, the Hoops created the better openings in front of goal and Mulgrew’s cross created a chance for Stokes but the former Hibs player couldn’t connect with the ball. Another former Hibby – Leigh Griffiths, a target for the baying home support – then set off on a run down the right but failed to provide a finish. Van Dijk then saw his free-kick go wide, before Hearts skipper Danny Wilson blocked another effort from Griffiths.

It wasn’t all one-sided though and Callum Paterson set up striker Paul McCallum only to see the on-loan West Ham player make something of a hash of the opportunity and end up conceding a foul. Paterson then made a loud but rather optimistic plea for a penalty kick when he fell inside the Celtic penalty area but if any contact was made it appeared it was from another player wearing maroon. Nonetheless, Hearts fans could enjoy their half-time pie with the game goalless. At this stage during Celtic’s last visit, the Hoops were five goals ahead…

Celtic began the second half the way they began the first by swarming around Hearts goal. It seemed only a matter of time before they scored and, indeed, they did after an hour’s play. Griffiths turned Danny Wilson before drilling in a left foot shot past Jamie MacDonald to give the visitors a deserved lead.

Hearts substitute Dale Carrick looked lively when he replaced the ineffectual McCallum and the youngster fired in a powerful effort from 20 yards which was blocked by Biton as Hearts went looking for the equaliser. However, it was the visitors who looked the more likely to score again and Commons drove a shot wide before Boerrigter produced a fine save from Jamie MacDonald.

Hearts then threatened to spoil Celtic’s long run without conceding a goal  - after 31 minutes Celtic keeper Forster broke former Aberdeen keeper’s league record of 1,115 minutes without losing a goal - but the Hoops defended well before finishing the game in the third minute of injury time when Pukki scored a second goal.

The gamed therefore ended with a 2-0 win for Celtic but it was a gallant effort from this young Hearts team who at least restored credibility with a battling performance, something Hearts manager Gary Locke alluded to after the game.

"I think we've got to look at the positives," said the Hearts gaffer. "The last time Celtic played here it was no contest. You can see how far some of our young players have come. For long spells we matched the best team in the country. We've told the players to go and express themselves. In the middle of the season, they took a dip in form, some of them at the same time. But you can see that, having worked with them for five or six months, they're taking on board what we're saying. They're not making as many mistakes and they've grown from boys to men."

Hearts: MacDonald, McGowan, McKay, Wilson, McHattie, Paterson, Stevenson, Hamill, Robinson, Nicholson, McCallum.

Celtic: Forster, Matthews, van Dijk, Ambrose, Mulgrew, Brown, Biton, Johansen, Commons, Griffiths, Stokes.

Referee: Kevin Clancy

Att: 15,801

Top man: Jamie MacDonald



Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Budge Up For Saving Hearts

The times are most certainly a-changing at Tynecastle. For the best part of a decade, Hearts supporters have often cringed with embarrassment when a press release from erstwhile club owner Vladimir Romanov hit the headlines – usually for all the wrong reasons.

Romanov, of course, has long since departed but the financial catastrophe he left behind caused Hearts to enter administration last summer. Now, nearly nine months later, the Foundation of Hearts group is poised to take over Edinburgh’s oldest football club with the club’s loyal supporters contributing towards its financial salvation.

Hearts executive chairwoman designate Ann Budge - the sole director of BIDCO 1874, the company that is poised to complete a deal worth £2.5m with the club’s administrator BDO - has this week communicated with those supporters to urge them to continue to pledge their help to realise fan ownership of the club. Here is the content of her email to those fans:

It has been a very busy few days since we announced some of the plans for trying to secure the long-term future of Heart of Midlothian Football Club.  

Hopefully, the statement made last week has provided some degree of clarity, albeit we recognise the need to provide more details. Please be assured we will furnish more information as soon as we are in a position to do so.   

We all know the task ahead. Firstly, to ensure the Club survives; secondly to ensure it is re-stabilised financially, with the strongest possible foundations to ensure its future. These are the tasks I am offering to take on; but I will not succeed without your continued support.  

My task, as I see it, is to ensure that when I hand the Club over to you, the supporters, I will be handing over a Club in good shape and with sufficient resources to face the challenges of the future. To achieve this the Club needs investment over the next two years to stabilise and then build a solid financial base.  

Some of you are asking how long you might be asked to contribute. Right now, the Club needs your financial support to see us through the next two years. Thereafter your contributions are required to secure supporter ownership. 

Beyond that, and once ownership passes to the fans, it will be for you, the supporters, to agree the financial priorities of your Club. 

To all the supporters who are helping the Club, either by attending games, contributing to the Foundation of Hearts, buying merchandise, fund raising - the list goes on - I thank you.  

It has been said many times over the last few months, but it is absolutely true that without this support we would not be here today. 

To those of you who have already pledged, I thank you.

To those of you who have not yet done so, I would simply say that if you believe in the journey we are about to undertake, and only if your financial position allows it, please consider joining your nearly 8,000 fellow supporters, who are contributing.  

These supporters have started to build the cash reserves to enable fans ownership to become a reality, which will ultimately put an end to private ownership of our club. 

I will do my part to the best of my ability.   

Thank you, in advance, for continuing to do yours.”

BDO recently agreed a deal with BIDCO 1874 for the purchase of the shares from the club's majority shareholder UBIG, the bankrupt Lithuanian institution which holds a 78.97% stake. This deal needs to be ratified at a UBIG creditors' meeting, scheduled for late March, after which it is envisaged Hearts can come out of administration.

After a prolonged spell of considerable turmoil, it’s heartening to read the Budge’s words. No mention of corruption or media monkeys as was the way of Romanov. Instead, words that offer considerable hope for the future of an Edinburgh and, indeed, Scottish football institution.

Thanks to the generosity of the Hearts support and the vision of Ann Budge, credibility is back on the agenda at Tynecastle.


Sunday, 16 February 2014

Inverness Caledonian Thistle 0 Heart of Midlothian 0

SPFL, Saturday 15 February 2014, Caledonian Stadium

They say a week is a long time in politics. It’s also a long time in football, particularly if your team is on the wrong end of a gut-wrenching cup semi-final defeat by a team with just nine players.  A week is bad enough; two weeks seems like an eternity.

Hearts headed north on Saturday to the home of the opponents who inflicted such misery at Easter Road in that ill-fated League Cup semi-final a fortnight ago. This time it was on league business and with Caley Thistle riding high in the league, the Highlanders were firm favourites to take all three points.

Hearts manager Gary Locke was forced into making a couple of changes from the side that broke many hearts two weeks ago. The injured David Smith was replaced by Ryan Stevenson while the suspended Kevin McHattie’s place was taken by Jordan McGhee.

As expected, the home side dominated the first half although it was Hearts Ryan Stevenson who had the game’s first real chance with a shot from 20 yards which went just over the bar. Thereafter, it was Caley Thistle who dictated the game with Watkins, Raven and the always-dangerous McKay all coming close to opening the scoring.

It seemed at times that Hearts captain Danny Wilson and goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald were playing Caley Thistle on their own, the Hearts custodian pulling off a superb save from McKay. Seconds later, Watkins effort beat MacDonald but Hearts teenage defender Jordan McGhee scooped the ball off the line.

Hearts were defending desperately at times but the aim of preventing the home side from scoring had worked as the first half ended goalless.

Curiously, it was Hearts who had the first chance of the second half when Jamie Hamill, who scored twice in the semi-final, almost opened the scoring with a powerful effort from 20 yards which whistled wide. Thereafter, the home side resumed their ascendency with Tansey and substitute Foran coming closest to breaking the deadlock. As the final whistle approached, Hearts almost nicked all three points when new boy Paul McCallum headed for goal only to see his effort blocked by Shinnie.

Locke was keen to point out the improvement in his side when he faced the press afterwards. “Overall, it’s a difficult place to come” said the Gorgie boss. “When we came here earlier in the season we were totally outplayed so I think you can see a definite improvement. That’s four games in a row in the league we’re unbeaten and I think there’s now a bit of belief among the boys.”

Hearts are now unbeaten in four league games although the gap at the bottom of the league table is 16 points. Next up for the Maroons is the visit of Celtic to Tynecastle next Saturday. Given the result the last time Neil Lennon’s side came to Gorgie, next week’s encounter may be deemed unsuitable for those under the age of 16…

Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Brill, Raven, Shinnie, Draper, Warren, Meekings, Watkins, Tansey, McKay, Vincent, Doran.

Hearts: MacDonald, McGowan, McGhee, Robinson, McKay, Wilson, Carrick, Hamill, McCallum, Stevenson, Nicholson.

Referee: Craig Thomson

Att: 3,392

Top man: Jamie MacDonald – Caley Thistle’s goalkeeper may be called Brill but this was another brilliant performance from the Hearts keeper.



Saturday, 8 February 2014

Anger Management

Hearts supporters don’t need anyone to tell them this has been a very difficult season. What was left of a flimsy metaphorical roof – the League Cup semi-final last weekend – fell in on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Easter Road, of all places, as Hearts let slip the chance of reaching a major cup final by conceding an injury time equaliser to nine man Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Inevitably, the Caley Jags held out during the 30 minutes of extra time and won through to their first national cup final by way of winning the penalty shoot-out.

For some Hearts supporters, this was too much to take. As I trudged my way to the exit of the East Stand, I watched as the crestfallen young Hearts players struggled to pick themselves up from the ground, where they had slumped moments earlier, heads in hands. They turned towards the Hearts support who had given them so much encouragement, not just that afternoon, but throughout the season. As they have done after every game these past few difficult months, the young Hearts players applauded those supporters. However, while some of the Maroon Army applauded back, it has to be said the majority didn’t. One punter edging his way down the steps behind me muttered ‘I’m no’ clapping that shower’.

I have to say my own applause was very much muted. This wasn’t a slight on the Hearts players who gave their all but rather the fact my heart, if you’ll pardon the pun, had been wrenched from my insides. At least that’s what it felt like for me and thousands of others.

It was a feeling akin to the all too frequent ‘near misses’ Hearts had under the tutelage of Alex MacDonald and Sandy Jardine in the 1980s. While that semi-final defeat at Easter Road could scarcely compare with the devastation felt by those of us at Dens Park, Dundee on the last day of season 1985/86, when two late goals by Albert Kidd Esquire snatched the league championship from Hearts hands, the feeling three weeks ago was akin to the Scottish Cup semi-finals of 1987 and 1988.

In ’87, Hearts were hot favourites to defeat St. Mirren at Hampden and fancy their chances of landing much yearned for silverware against Dundee United in the final. In one of many slaps in the face suffered during that era, Hearts lost 2-1. My journey back from Mount Florida to Aberdeen where I was staying at the time was long and not a little tortuous.

A year later, Hearts were back at Hampden, this time facing Celtic in the last four. This was the Hoops centenary season but a Brian Whittaker goal looked to have put the Maroons into the final, with Hearts leading 1-0 with just two minutes remaining. Then, in the space of 120 seconds, Hearts keeper Henry Smith dropped a couple of crosses, Celtic scored twice and Hearts dream was over for another year. Devastation seemed to be a constant companion of Hearts at that time – and that just wasn’t acceptable in the eighties…

What is inescapable is that being a Hearts supporter is tough. Of course, we have seen our team lift three Scottish Cups in the intervening years, and the 5-1 hammering of Hibernian less than two years ago will be remembered as one of the greatest Scottish Cup finals of all time, and arguably one of Hearts greatest achievements. Some of the Hearts support at Easter Road three weeks ago vented their anger at witnessing their team failing to beat a team of nine men. Those of us who witnessed the heart-breaking events of 1986, 87, 88 and all the other years when Hearts let glory slip (don’t get me started on the two Airdrieonians Scottish Cup semis in the 1990s) merely rubbed our furrowed brows and headed for home with a philosophical sigh of ‘we’ve seen it all before’.

Of course, people who part with hard-earned cash to see their team are entitled to their opinion. Three decades ago, before the internet, these opinions were debated in pubs and clubs with the more articulated ones put in print by the burgeoning fanzine scene. Now, with social media available at our fingertips wherever we go, fans can log straight on to the likes of Twitter and Facebook as well as fans forum websites to vent their spleen. The written abuse some of the Hearts players took, particularly Jamie Hamill, was, to be frank, bang out of order. You won’t get a more committed player in a maroon jersey than Jamie and it’s worth remembering the former Killie player took a pay cut to remain a Tynecastle last summer. This on a weekend when Celtic manager Neil Lennon was subjected to abuse from fans during the other semi-final at Tynecastle.

Yes, it’s been a disappointing year. Yes, it looks like Hearts will be playing in the Championship next season. However, the swings and roundabouts of outrageous fortune are what being a Hearts fan is all about. It makes us who we are. As if to prove the point, 24 hours after the Easter Road calamity, news broke that Hearts are hopeful of exiting administration by the end of the season.

Next season will be a fresh start for us all. Trust me, Heart of Midlothian will be back before long – ready to challenge again!


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Inverness Caledonian Thistle 2 Heart of Midlothian 2 (ICT win 4-2 on pens)

Scottish League Cup Semi-Final, Sunday 2 February 2014, Easter Road

Hearts had an all too brief respite from their travails of league business with a League Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Easter Road on Sunday. It was a re-match of the same stage of the competition a year and a week ago. Sadly, the outcome was different; whereas in 2013, Hearts were the victors after a penalty shoot-out, this year it was the Highlanders, who were reduced to nine men, who emerged victorious after another penalty shoot-out.

Hearts had re-arranged their midweek SPFL fixture against St. Mirren in order than Ryan Stevenson could complete his two match suspension following a red card at Perth a couple of weeks ago. Ironically, with Hearts winning the two games in which the former Ayr United man was missing, Stevenson didn’t start the semi-final, taking his place on the substitutes bench alongside Hearts new on-loan signing from West Ham, Paul McCallum.

Hearts boss Gary Locke began the game with the same side that defeated St. Mirren on Wednesday but they were almost behind after just three minutes when a mistake by skipper Danny Wilson allowed Caley Thistle’s McKay to set up Draper but his effort went over the bar.

John Hughes’ men looked the livelier of the sides in the early stages but Hearts eventually pulled themselves into the game. Sam Nicholson’s pace and trickery was causing the Jags defence problems and his effort from 20 yards produced a decent save from Brill in the Caley Thistle goal. Dale Carrick then headed over when he really ought to have found the target as play raged from end to end. The best chance of a goalless first half, however, fell to Caley Thistle’s McKay on the stroke of half-time. The striker got ahead of his Hearts namesake Brad before firing in a shot which Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald did brilliantly to save.  

As happened in last year’s semi-final, Inverness took the lead early in the second half. From 20 yards out Tansey fired in blistering shot which whistled past MacDonald to put the Highlanders a goal up.

This seemed to ignite Hearts and Callum Paterson produced a superb save from Brill before Caley Thistle were reduced to ten men when Warren was shown a second yellow card of the afternoon when he fouled Sam Nicholson. From the free-kick, Ryan Stevenson rolled the ball to Jamie Hamill whose shot took a deflection before nestling in the net to level the scores at 1-1. The Hearts fans celebrated and they were ecstatic two minutes later when Hamill scored again, this time with a magnificent 20 yard free-kick.

Jamie MacDonald then produced a wonder save from Meekings but this was the Caley Thistle defender’s last involvement before being sent off for a late challenge on Scott Robinson. Hearts were 2-1 up against nine men as the regulation 90 minutes drew to a close and a third cup final appearance in less than two years seemed on the cards. However, calamity struck when shoddy defending from Hearts allowed substitute Ross to squeeze the ball past MacDonald in the final minute to take the tie to extra time.

Caley Thistle defended resolutely during the extra half an hour and Hearts, despite their numerical advantage, just could not break them down. Newcomer Paul McCallum, on as a substitute, had the best chance at the end but couldn’t direct his header on target.

So the tie was decided by a penalty shoot-out. After Shinnie missed his kick for Thistle, Paul McCallum had the opportunity to make an immediate name for himself – but he also missed his spot kick. Danny Wilson and Dale Carrick scored for Hearts but Jamie Hamill, so often hero from the penalty spot missed his kick. Caley Thistle converted their remaining penalties and so progressed to the League Cup Final with Aberdeen on 16 March.

It was a bitterly disappointing end to the game for the Hearts supporters in the crowd of 12,762. Their team’s failure to see out a game against opponents who had just nine players was quite frankly an embarrassment and some fans weren’t slow in making their feelings known as the Maroon Army trudged out of Easter Road.

Afterwards, Gary Locke struggled to contain his anguish. “We only have ourselves to blame. It was a great opportunity to get to a final. Defending in the last minute, we had chances to get rid of the ball before we did. But there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

Inverness Caledonian Thistle: Brill, Raven, Shinnie, Vincent, Warren, Meekings, Watkins, Tansey, McKay, Draper, Doran.

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

Referee: John Beaton

Att: 12,762

Top man: Jamie Hamill.