Sunday, 27 April 2014

Hibernian 1 Heart of Midlothian 2

SPFL Premiership, Sunday 27 April 2014 – Easter Road

Much has been written about Hearts 15 point deduction in the SPFL Premiership and the embargo on signing new players meaning relegation was likely from the start of the season. This was confirmed a couple of weeks ago and Hearts will play next season in the Championship. However, Hibernian’s astonishing dip in form since the start of the year has opened up the possibility of the Easter Road club joining their Edinburgh rivals in football’s second flight next season, a possibility enhanced by Hearts recording their third league win of the season over Hibs – and their fourth in total if you include the League Cup win at the same venue. While Hearts will remain at the foot of the league until the season’s end, 11th place in the league will mean a nervy two-legged play-off against a Championship team for the right to play in the Premiership next season – and Hibernian are slipping closer to this spot with every passing week.

Two goals in four minutes towards the end of the first half from Callum Paterson put Hearts on their way to victory and although Hibs Jordon Forster pulled one back in the second half, it was too little too late for Terry Butcher’s side.

The game was preceded by a minute’s applause in recognition of two icons of the 1970s and 80s with Edinburgh connections. Politician Margo MacDonald  - a passionate supporter of Hibernian - passed away at the beginning of the month while Hearts legend Sandy Jardine who, with Alex MacDonald was responsible for the rebirth of Hearts in the early 1980s, died on Thursday.

However, it has to be said the game itself couldn’t match the class of those two individuals. Misplaced passes, crunching tackles and aimless long punts seemed to be the order of the day – sadly, an all too common feature of recent Edinburgh derbies. Hibs Kevin Thomson had the only effort on goal of note early on – but even this was wayward and rather aimless.

Hearts seemed content to let Hibs come at them but the home side’s nerves were there for all to see although good play from Sam Stanton delivered a cross into the Hearts penalty box only to find there was no one to accept his fine offer. Moments later, Hibs Jason Cummings headed Liam Craig’s cross wide before the youngster tried a long-range effort which Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald needed two attempts to gather.

Stanton was the one player who looked threatening although it has to be said the game could have been played without a ball and few people would have noticed. Just when it looked like the first half would be goalless, Hearts broke the deadlock eight minutes before half-time. A fine corner from Billy King found Callum Paterson and the utility player’s downward header fell beyond the despairing Hibs keeper Ben Williams to give Hearts the lead – and secure Hearts 500th goal in the Edinburgh derby. It was Hearts first meaningful attempt on goal in the game.

Cue bedlam from the sold-out Hearts end while those Hibs fans who had made the effort to support their team collectively folded their arms and doubtless thought ‘here we go again.’ A feeling intensified just four minutes later when, following a free-kick expertly delivered by Kevin McHattie, Paterson rose high again to head home Hearts second goal. This was the signal for some of the home support to head for the exits as Hearts went in at the break two goals to the good.

Hibs manager Terry Butcher may well have used a few choice words at the interval as his charges looked at lot more determined in the early stages of the second half. Alex Harris’ shot was deflected wide before Jordon Forster’s header was cleared off the goalline. Kevin Thomson then had a chance as Hearts seemed to retreat into a shell. However, Gary Locke’s side did eventually move forward and McHattie rattled in a fierce long-range shot which was well saved by Williams.

Liam Craig’s free-kick then brought a fine save from the Hearts keeper and there certainly seemed more goalmouth action in the early stages of the second half than most of the first. With 20 minutes to go, the home side were given a lifeline when Kevin Thomson’s free-kick caught out the Hearts defence allowing Ryan McGivern to cross to Jordon Forster who headed past MacDonald. 2-1 to the visitors and now it was very much game on.

Kevin Thomson then found substitute Duncan Watmore but the Hibs player was denied by Hearts Australian defender Dylan McGowan. With the home team piling on the pressure for what would be a crucial equaliser, the Hibs fans were ready to celebrate with just five minutes left. Hearts failed to clear the ball which fell into the path of James Collins. Sadly for Hibs, their £200,000 striker completely missed the ball and the chance was gone.

With six minutes of stoppage time added on it was Hearts who had the game’s final chance but Ryan Stevenson’s effort on goal went wide. Seconds later, the final whistle blew and Hearts supporters celebrated yet another win in the Edinburgh derby. For Hibernian, it was another bitter pill to swallow, particularly as their team now face a tension-laden final three games to avoid the dreaded relegation play-offs.

Hibs: Williams, McGivern, Nelson, Harris, Robertson, Craig, Maybury, Forster, Stanton, Cummings, Thomson.

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; King, Robinson, Holt, Nicholson, Stevenson; Carrick

Referee: Bobby Madden

Att: 14,806

Top man: Jason Holt

Friday, 25 April 2014

Sandy Jardine

Sandy Jardine, a man forever associated with the rebirth of Heart of Midlothian FC in the 1980s, has died, 18 months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 65.

Jardine was brought to Tynecastle by his close friend and then Hearts manager Alex MacDonald in 1982 and the former Rangers and Scotland defender was instrumental in shaping Hearts as a major force in Scottish football.

Many people, including those at Rangers where he had played with distinction for 17 years, thought that his best days were behind him when he moved back to his home city to join Hearts, the team he followed as a boy. However, Jardine proved everyone wrong and would be a key player for Hearts for another five years, his experience and knowledge of the game helping the development of youngsters such as Gary Mackay and John Robertson and, in particular, Craig Levein. The big Fifer who would go on to manage Hearts and Scotland, certainly had the hallmarks of Jardine at his best.

Jardine was initially assistant to MacDonald but his influence was such that then Hearts chairman Wallace Mercer appointed Jardine joint manager in 1986 – the year forever associated with heartache for Hearts as they lost the league title in the last eight minutes of season 1985/86 with a 2-0 loss at Dundee. Jardine’s major contribution to that team, which also reached the Scottish Cup final that year, was such that he was named Scotland's player of the year for the second time at the age of 37. In the aftermath of that traumatic game at Dens Park - the 28th anniversary of which is next Saturday - there were no excuses from either MacDonald or Jardine; no blaming the referee, no ranting or condemnation. They accepted what happened with dignity and that was Sandy Jardine all over.

There was a real sense of shock when Jardine left Hearts in 1988, chairman Wallace Mercer declaring that 'two hands on the tiller simply wasn't working'. Although Hearts enjoyed a decent run in the Uefa Cup during season 1988/89, it's fair to say Alex MacDonald struggled without his right hand man.

In a statement on Friday, Hearts offered their condolences to Jardine’s family saying they were deeply saddened at the death of a club legend.

The saying goes that only the good die young. Sandy Jardine epitomised everything good about football and his contribution to Hearts will never be forgotten.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Heart of Midlothian 2 Ross County 0

SPFL, Saturday 19 April 2014 – Tynecastle

It seemed like the dawning of a new era at Tynecastle on Saturday. The news during the week that Hearts look very likely to exit administration before too long – a situation they have been in since June last year – enabling Ann Budge to take over the running of the club before passing it over in years to come to the Foundation of Hearts, the supporters group, has instilled a fresh spirit of hope and anticipation in Gorgie. Yet again, the Hearts supporters turned up in their numbers – nearly 13,700 to see a team already relegated – and they chanted their support for their club incessantly, declaring they will do this forever more. Even the weather joined in the new beginning for the club as bright sunshine beamed on Tynecastle Stadium as the feel-good factor made a rare visit.

As befitting such an occasion, the Hearts players ensured the result the home support wanted by recording their third win in four league games against a Ross County side themselves embroiled in a relegation battle, with the eleventh placed side in the SPFL Premiership faced with a dreaded relegation play-off against a Championship promotion hopeful. It’s a situation Hearts city rivals also find themselves in and when legendary stadium announcer Scott Wilson announced that Hibernian were a goal down in Paisley before Hearts had even kicked off, it brought predicable loud acclaim from those in maroon.

Hearts manager Gary Locke, whose name was chanted by the home support, opted to have Dale Carrick playing the lone attacker with Ryan Stevenson playing just behind the youngster. It was Stevenson who had the game’s first real chance after six minutes when his effort from the edge of the County penalty box curled past the post.

Fine play from Carrick and another impressive youngster, Billy King, saw the latter have an opportunity to open the scoring. With this reporter having the Queen’s Shilling on King to be first scorer, I tried manfully to contain my disappointment when the youngster opted to pass to Stevenson rather than shoot for glory and the chance was lost.

The visitors enjoyed much possession but did little to threaten Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald. The next chance fell to Hearts Ryan Stevenson but his effort from some distance flew wide, in keeping with the pattern of the first half. Half-time arrived with the game goalless but there was some cheer for the home support at the interval when Tynecastle legend Rudi Skacel appeared to make the half-time draw. Hearts fans still retain hope the great man will line up for Hearts in the Championship next season.

The second half soon adopted the pattern of the first. Carey soon had an opportunity for the visitors but his effort on goal ended in the Roseburn Stand much to the chagrin of those from Dingwall. On the hour mark, Hearts Sam Nicholson played a one-two with Billy King on the edge of the County penalty box but young Sam’s effort was easily saved by the County keeper, Brown, who was the Hibernian goalkeeper who shipped five goals in the 2012 Scottish Cup final, a fact the goading home support were keen to remind him.

Moments later, a goal did arrive in somewhat controversial circumstances. Hearts Kevin McHattie set off on a trademark run into the opposition penalty box only to be thwarted by County’s Kiss. Penalty declared referee Willie Collum who, it has to be said, didn’t enjoy the best of afternoons. The award seemed of the softish variety and the County players voiced their displeasure. Hearts Jamie Hamill, who had been booked a few moments earlier, stepped up and executed the penalty with his customary precision and Hearts were ahead. However, Hamill celebrated by picking up the ball and running towards the Hearts support in the old main stand, pursued by the referee and a posse of County players - one of whom, Songo’o, pushed the Hearts man. When County manager Derek Adams tried to intervene, he and Hamill clashed with the Staggies boss tumbling to the ground. Referee Collum then flashed a second yellow card to Hamill meaning the end of the game for the Hearts player – and also meaning he will miss next week’s Edinburgh derby at Easter Road.

A man short, Hearts were now on the defensive but it was Scott Robinson who had a chance to clinch victory; however, he opted to shoot straight at keeper Brown to ensure County remained in the game. Nonetheless, Hearts sealed a fine win in the fourth minute of stoppage time when they broke forward from a County attack. Robinson squared the ball for Dale Carrick and the youngster duly despatched the ball beyond Brown to end the scoring and continue a curious penchant for late goals in this fixture.

Hearts, it seems, have found form at a point in the season when it is too late to rectify their league position. Remarkably, victory at Easter Road next Sunday will mean Hearts will have won more league games than Hibernian this season – and also increase the prospect of both Edinburgh sides being relegated this season.

As the Hearts supporters streamed out of Tynecastle on Saturday, the spring sunshine beaming on their backs, the old adage of hope springs eternal sprang to mind. Hearts have been a sick patient this season. As it draws to a close, Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts resuscitation of this great club appears to be sparking a much-hoped for recovery. Perhaps next season Hearts will be fighting fit once more.

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, McKay, McHattie; King, Hamill, Holt, Nicholson, Stevenson, Carrick.

Ross County: Brown, Cikos, Boyd, Kiss, Brittain, Quinn, Tidser, Carey, Slew, Oikonomu, Sango'o.

Referee: Willie Collum

Att: 13,692

Top man: Dale Carrick

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hearts Back From the Brink

The news all Hearts supporters have been hoping for came tantalising closer on Wednesday with the news then Edinburgh’s most successful football club moved a step closer to coming out of administration after creditors of the now defunct Lithuanian bank Ukio Bankas approved the sale of shares in the club.

Ukio Bankas is Hearts' biggest creditor and owns 29% of the club's shares as well as security over Tynecastle Stadium, Hearts home for the past 128 years. However, these shares will now be sold following agreement at a meeting of the bank's creditors committee in Lithuania on Wednesday.

Ian Murray MP, who has fronted the Foundation of Hearts, the fans group who hope eventually to run Hearts said: "Ukio Bankas creditors met this morning and approved the deal. Sale and purchase agreement needs completed, but we can say deal done. It is absolutely fantastic news.”

Following on from the agreement last week with the bank's parent company, UBIG, to buy the investment company's 50% holding in Hearts, it seems almost certain Hearts will exit administration in a matter of weeks thus enabling businesswoman Ann Budge to complete a £2.5m takeover of Hearts before transferring ownership to the Foundation of Hearts within five years.

Budge gave a brief statement to the media following the announcement.

"This is the beginning of a new era for Heart of Midlothian Football Club," she said. "I would personally like to express my gratitude to the fans for their support and I am confident that together we can rebuild Hearts to once again become one of the greatest clubs in the country.

"I'm very much looking forward to the beginning of this new chapter in the club's history. We're not across the line just yet but this is a very positive step and we are almost there. The fans have been magnificent throughout but I would urge them to keep backing the team in their numbers during the last few games to ensure we get to the end of the season.

"The end is now in sight and together I am confident we can achieve our target."

Hearts can now begin exiting administration after 27 April - following a 20-day ‘cooling-off’ period for the UBIG share deal. Administrator Bryan Jackson said: "This is one of the final hurdles in the transfer of ownership of the club. I would like to thank the creditors of both UBIG and Ukio Bankas for agreeing to this deal and also the patience and forbearing of Ann Budge and the Foundation of Hearts.

"There is still some work to be done to conclude proceedings, but we are now very close to a successful conclusion."


Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Sense of Purpose

I harbour a strong suspicion I won’t be alone in wanting to see the back of season 2013/14. As Gary Locke said on the eve of the recent game with Partick Thistle, a game that finally consigned the once mighty Heart of Midlothian to relegation, it’s been a long, hard season both physically and mentally for players and supporters. Now, those who know me will all too readily tell you the chances of me running around for an hour and a half are akin to Leigh Griffiths signing for Hearts next season so, physically, I’ve not found it hard at all. However, mentally, this has been one long hard slog.

Hope rose on Monday that Hearts would exit administration this week. Creditors of major shareholder UBIG agreed to transfer their 50% holding to BIDCO, the Anne Budge-backed vehicle for future fan control through the Foundation of Hearts. However, no deal has yet been reached regarding the 29% shares held by Ukio Bankas, who hold a charge on Tynecastle Stadium. Talks will continue between lawyers representing the failed Lithuanian bank and Hearts' administrators (BDO). The major concern is that Hearts will run out of money by the end of April, so a decision from Ukio's creditors is a matter of urgency. The Foundation of Hearts spokesman, Ian Murray MP, said that a formal meeting is expected by the end of next week. The long hard slog just keeps getting longer and longer.

Of course, the 15 point deduction imposed on Hearts by the SPFL at the start of the season for the club going into administration meant Hearts were always going to fight, forlornly as it transpires, against relegation. Arguably, the embargo on signing players has had an even stronger impact. When injuries affected key players such as Ryan Stevenson, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker, it affected the team badly.

The Hearts support accepted this but it didn’t stop them turning out in huge numbers, week in, week out. Their magnificent support and unquestioning loyalty has been one of the few highlights of the season. Hindsight, they say, is a wonderful thing and I wonder if going into administration at the tail end of last season might have been an option with the drop into what is now known as the Championship for this campaign. My thinking behind this is that at least this would have made this season a wee bit more competitive than it has been. A brief spell at the beginning of the campaign apart, Hearts have spent the season cut adrift from the rest of the league. And this has robbed us of the cut-throat intensity normally associated with following this beloved team of ours.

When Hearts last played outside the top flight of Scottish football, I lived afar – 140 miles away in Aberdeen. I did go to a few games but I felt somewhat isolated. I missed the weekly passion of heading along Gorgie Road, shuffling into Tynecastle’s wide-open terracings and cheering on the boys in maroon. When I did make the trip south, the anticipation and excitement of watching Hearts take on Ayr United with around 4,000 other Jambos at Tynecastle marked me out to my friends in the Granite City as being somewhat ‘different’. The point I’m rather labouring somewhat is that there was a real purpose to going to the game, even if it was a First Division clash.

The present day Hearts team contains some of the most promising youngsters in Scotland and watching them progress and learn from experience this season has been gratifying. Nonetheless, the aforementioned 15 point deduction has meant the laddies’ task of staying in the top flight of Scottish football has been akin to climbing up Ben Nevis in the middle of winter wearing a pair of carpet slippers. The end of this season can’t come soon enough for me and, I suspect, Gary Locke and his young team.

Some of my associates, particularly those of the Hibernian persuasion, snigger when I tell them I’m really looking forward to next season. This isn’t a display of bravado, I’m being sincere. Assuming Hearts are playing in the SPFL Championship next season (and disaster hasn’t struck in Lithuania and we end up starting again in League Two a la Rangers) I’m of the view that the second flight of Scottish football next season will actually have more entertainment value than the top one.

Rangers and Hearts will likely assume the mantle of pre-season favourites for the automatic promotion place. The games against Ally McCoist’s side will likely mean full-house signs at Tynecastle with the kick-off likely to be switched to accommodate live television coverage. And this young Hearts team will have nothing to fear heading to Ibrox for what will be one of the highlights of the season.

Next season, the Championship may also include Dunfermline Athletic. I hope the Pars win their promotion play-off games as a trip across the River Forth to East End Park is always a pleasure while their manager Jim Jefferies will always be welcome to Tynecastle. Depending on who wins promotion this season, there’s also the possibility of games against Falkirk and Dundee and another short trip to Livingston. At the time of writing, one can’t even rule out the possibility of there still being Edinburgh derbies (anyone else keen to know the Hibs score this afternoon?) All of these games will prove tricky but, crucially, all will be meaningful. Meanwhile, in the SPFL Premiership, few would bet against Celtic being so far ahead of the rest come Christmas the others will require snookers just to stay in touch…

Hearts supporters have been truly magnificent this season and they can be forever proud of the support they have given their team during trying and truly exceptional circumstances. I have a feeling that, as they did back in 1977 when Hearts suffered relegation for the first time in their history, the Maroon Army will back their team in huge numbers again, despite demotion. It’s worth recalling that nearly 20,000 fans watched Hearts play fellow promotion hopefuls Dundee at Tynecastle in January 1978. Back then the fans stuck by their team. I have absolutely no doubt that they will again next season – a season that will have a sense of purpose and intensity once more.

Twitter @Mike1874

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Partick Thistle 2 Heart of Midlothian 4

SPFL, Saturday 5 April 2014 – Firhill

Hearts SPFL life support machine, which had been threatened to be turned off by Hibernian and Aberdeen in the last six days, finally had its plug pulled in Glasgow despite Hearts producing, ironically, one of their best performances of the season to defeat Partick Thistle at Firhill.

The Maroons were faced with a scenario where they had to win each and every one of their remaining six SPFL Premiership games while hoping St. Mirren would lose all of theirs. There was as much chance of that happening as Leigh Griffiths signing for Hearts in the summer and so Hearts were mercifully relieved of their duties and will play their football next season outside the top flight of Scottish football for the first time since 1983. Whether that will be in the Championship or League Two may well be decided next week after yet another meeting of creditors in Lithuania. The earnest hope is a deal will be struck for the shares of the club meaning Ann Budge can take control and the Foundation of Hearts can lead the way forward – and crucially see Hearts only dropping down one division next season.

Yet again there was a sizeable support from Edinburgh whose devotion to their team this season has been nothing short of remarkable. Those who travelled to Glasgow were ‘rewarded’ by seeing their team go a goal down after just five minutes. A long ball forward reached Doolan who fired past Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald to put the hosts a goal up and invoke the predictable ‘Hearts are going down’ chant from the home support.

Hearts, with Brad McKay, Dale Carrick, Scott Robinson and Billy King replacing Danny Wilson – who was suspended following his red card against Aberdeen on Wednesday – Paul McCallum, David Smith and Sam Nicholson, fought back but nearly went two goals down when Taylor fired over the bar from 18 yards. Doolan then had a chance for his second goal after fine build up play but his effort was saved well by Jamie Mac.

Hearts then almost grabbed the equaliser when Scott Robinson got on the end of a Kevin McHattie corner only for Thistle keeper Gallacher to produce a superb save. Billy King then had an opportunity to level the scores when he latched on to Dale Carrick’s through pass but the youngster fired his shot wide and it began to look as if it would be one of those days. However, the Maroons would not be denied and three minutes before half-time, King turned provider when he crossed for Carrick to head home the equaliser. 1-1 at the interval.

While it took Thistle just five minutes to score in the first half, it took the Jambos just four minutes of the second period to go in front. Billy King collected the ball 25 yards from goal and unleashed a superb shot which flew past Gallacher and into the net to put the visitors in front. 12 minutes later, Scott Robinson’s corner found the head of Ryan Stevenson whose header found the corner of the net to put Hearts 3-1 ahead with less than half an hour to go.

Hearts were rampant now – something that hasn’t been said too often this season – and six minutes later they scored a fourth goal. The hard-working Robinson raced down the right wing before crossing to Stevenson. ‘Stevo’ turned and fired in a brilliant shot which was beyond Gallacher and, astonishingly, it was now 4-1 to Hearts.

With the news that St. Mirren were losing at home to Motherwell, it seemed Gary Locke’s side were about to survive for another day, even when McMillan pulled a goal back for Thistle with two minutes to go. However, any thoughts of the ‘Great Escape’ faded with the news that St. Mirren had equalised against Motherwell – then disappeared entirely when news filtered through that the Paisley Saints had scored twice in two minutes to win the game. Hearts relegation, therefore, was confirmed despite a superb second half performance in Glasgow – and a result which puts Partick Thistle in the dreaded play-off place.

Defiant Hearts supporters chanted ‘we’ll support you ever more’ as the emotional Hearts players left the field at the end of the game. With performances like this, surely it will be only a matter of time before Hearts are back in the big time.

Partick Thistle: Gallacher, McMillan, Taylor-Sinclair, Bannigan, Gabriel, Mair, Higginbotham, Fraser, Taylor, Doolan, Erskine.

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, McKay, McHattie; Robinson, Hamill, Holt; Stevenson, Carrick, King.

Referee: Stephen Finnie

Att: 4,262

Top man: Billy King

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Heart of Midlothian 1 Aberdeen 1

SPFL, Wednesday 2 April 2014 – Tynecastle

Like a champion boxer knocked to the canvas but crawling back up the ropes for one last punch, Hearts refuse to accept the inevitably that is relegation without putting up one hell of a fight. Having thwarted their city rivals and spoiled the ‘relegation party’ by defeating Hibernian on Sunday, Hearts refused to let even a numerical disadvantage get the better of them by storming back for a well-deserved draw against high-flying Aberdeen at Tynecastle on Wednesday evening.

The consensus was that, while taking great delight in denying Hibernian the opportunity to demote them, Hearts plight was irretrievable and defeat from a team who lifted the League Cup a couple of weeks ago would confirm relegation. When the Dons took the lead in the second half and Hearts skipper Danny Wilson was sent off, it seemed that was that. However, there is no team in Scotland with more spirit than Gary Locke’s Hearts and, like they did in August, they denied Aberdeen victory with a late goal and one that means the Boys in Maroon are still clinging on to the lifejacket tossed from SS Relegation.

One of the heroes from Sunday’s Edinburgh derby victory – Dale Carrick – was injured meaning on-loan striker Paul McCallum was leading the line.

Aberdeen took a sizeable travelling support to Scotland’s capital city and the Dons wasted little time in posting their intentions. After just five minutes, good play from Pawlett set up McGinn who brought out a fine save from Hearts keeper Jamie MacDonald. The ever-dangerous Rooney then got away from his marker only to be thwarted by the Hearts keeper before McGinn followed up his blocked free-kick with an effort from 20 yards which went perilously close. It was all Aberdeen in the first half although their fine play seemed to lack a cutting edge. They almost paid for this just before half-time when Ryan Stevenson failed to connect properly with David Smith’s cross and a rare chance for the home side was lost. Right on half-time, Paul McCallum had the ball in the Aberdeen net but his challenge on Dons keeper Langfield was deemed illegal by referee Kevin Clancy and the Englishman received a booking for his trouble. Perhaps if he had been a Rangers player the goal would have stood, bearing in mind the Ibrox side scored from a similar situation against Albion Rovers in the Scottish Cup a few weeks back.

McCallum was replaced by Scott Robinson at half-time with both sides looking to make the breakthrough after an entertaining but ultimately goalless first half. The change seemed to energise Hearts with Stevenson and Smith both having ambitious efforts on goal. Midway through the second half, Hearts almost took the lead. A superb pass from Jason Holt found Calum Paterson on the right. The big man surged past two Dons defenders before firing in a ferocious shot from more than 20 yards which Dons keeper Langfield did well to save.

Hearts were now in the ascendency and for the first time in the evening it was the Dons who were on the back foot. However, with 20 minutes to go, Hearts were deflated when captain Danny Wilson pulled back a Dons player on the edge of the penalty box and received his second yellow card of the evening. An early bath for the skipper and things went from bad to worse for the home side when Flood fired home the resultant free-kick to give the Dons the lead, much to the delight of the travelling support in the Roseburn Stand.

Hearts though, as so often this season, refused to throw in the towel. With seven minutes left they were handed the chance on a plate to equalise when Ryan Stevenson pounced on an error from the Dons defence in the penalty area but, with an open goal to aim at, the former Ayr United player failed to hit the target. Stevenson fell to the ground with his head in his hands and the home support wailed in anguish. That seemed to be the final nail in Hearts relegation coffin. However, this battling Hearts team had other ideas.

With just four minutes to go, the tireless Calum Paterson ran through the Aberdeen defence only to be brought down by Logan in the penalty box. Penalty said the referee and Jamie Hamill, who had driven his team on all night, coolly sent the ball past Langfield to give Hearts a deserved share of the spoils.

The atmosphere at the end of the game was one of high emotion. Hearts aren’t relegated yet – but they can only match St. Mirren’s 28 points. Gary Locke’s side must win all of their six remaining games while praying the Paisley Saints lose all of theirs. As Locke said in the programme prior to the game this isn’t going to happen. But Hearts are at least going down fighting.

Locke was proud of his players afterwards. “First half I thought Aberdeen played well” said the manager. “I felt we had to make the change at half-time to get ourselves back in the game because we weren't getting enough of the ball. But, credit to the boys again. I thought they were absolutely brilliant, every one of them.

“While we’ve got Partick Thistle on Saturday, the main focus for the club is Monday.”

Locke was referring to the potentially crucial creditors meeting between Ukio Bankas and UBIG, where it is hoped a deal will be agreed to save Hearts from liquidation. Locke, like every other Hearts fan, is keeping his fingers crossed. “We just hope that we can get a good result Saturday, then Monday's the big day for us and hopefully all goes well there as well,"

Hearts: MacDonald; Paterson, McGowan, Wilson, McHattie; Hamill, Stevenson, Holt; Smith, McCallum, Nicholson

Aberdeen: Langfield, Logan, Anderson, Reynolds, Considine, Jack, Flood, Robson, Pawlett, Rooney, McGinn.

Referee: Kevin Clancy

Att: 13,913

Top man: Jamie Hamill – he may not be the most gifted of footballers but no one can beat his sheer drive and determination.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Rebirth of the Reds?

A Conservative Prime Minister. Russia and America at loggerheads. Liverpool challenging for the league title in England. Hearts facing relegation. And Aberdeen lifting silverware. Are we back in the 1980s?

The visit of Aberdeen to Tynecastle on Wednesday invokes memories of the late 1970s/early 1980s when the Dons were a force to be reckoned with and Hearts were struggling amid financial problems. I was at Pittodrie in May 1979 when Hearts travelled to the Granite City knowing defeat would consign them to the First Division, from whence they had returned a year before. These became known as the ‘yo-yo’ years. A youthful Hearts team which included three teenagers collapsed to a 5-0 thrashing from a Dons team containing Willie Miller, Gordon Strachan, Mark McGhee and Steve Archibald and a determined young manager in Alex Ferguson. Although Hearts came straight back up again a year later the limitations of that team were obvious and it surprised no one when they were relegated again. It wasn’t until 1983 that Hearts re-established themselves as one of the top sides in the country.

At the time of Hearts last promotion in 1983, Aberdeen were one of the leading sides not only in Scotland but in Europe. I was living there at that time and the euphoria that engulfed the city when the Dons lifted the now defunct European Cup Winners Cup - defeating Bayern Munich in the quarter final and Real Madrid in the final – was incredible. My devotion to the Maroons, however, never wavered and as the Dons marched on in pursuit of glory against some of the biggest names in world football, I was heading to Gorgie to see Hearts take on the likes of Ayr United and Queen of the South in the First Division. Indeed, three days after Aberdeen lifted the Cup Winners Cup, it was the last league game of the season and the Dons still had a chance of lifting the league championship. They hammered Hibernian 5-0 on that final day but Dundee United’s victory in the Dundee derby meant the league flag was heading to Tannadice. On that same afternoon, I was at Tynecastle watching Hearts defeat Hamilton Academical 2-0, our hopes of lifting the First Division title dashed by St. Johnstone’s victory over Dunfermline Athletic. This brought copious amounts of sniggering from my Aberdonian colleagues. ‘Who have your team got on Saturday, Mike? Hamilton Accies you say? All ticket is it?’ 

When Hearts returned to the Premier Division in the summer of 1983 there were many who predicted the Gorgie men would resort to type and be fighting a relegation battle. However, Alex MacDonald’s side began the league campaign with five straight victories, with Aberdeen being the first side to defeat the Maroons with a 2-0 win at Tynecastle in October. Not only did Hearts steer well clear of the relegation battle – promotion bedfellows St. Johnstone went straight back down without so much as a whimper – they finished in fifth place in the league at the end of the season to qualify for the following season’s Uefa Cup. Little more than 18 months after playing the likes of Alloa Athletic and Dumbarton, Hearts would be lining up against Paris St. Germain in the Parc de Princes in the French capital. A remarkable turnaround although one which cut little ice with some of my Aberdonian colleagues still basking in the glory of their side actually winning a European trophy.

However, fast-forward a few years and it would be my turn to mock as the Dons suffered cup humiliation to the likes of Stenhousemuir, Queens Park and Queen of the South while Hearts would lift the Scottish Cup in 1998, 2006 and in 2012 which, being a triumph over our city rivals, was something Aberdeen could only imagine, being a one club city.

Football fortunes tends to run in cycles. It’s currently Aberdeen’s turn to enjoy the excitement of cup glory while Hearts face a spell away from the limelight. Dons manager Derek McInnes is already drawing comparisons with Sir Alex Ferguson. When he became Aberdeen manager in 1978, Fergie was a young, ambitious manager with a determination and will to win. McInnes is already showing these traits and, like Ferguson, is a former Rangers player who perhaps feels he wasn’t given the chance to prove what he could really do at Ibrox.

It will be interesting to monitor the progress of Hearts and Aberdeen in the next couple of years. Hopefully, 18 months from now Hearts will be back playing the Dons in the SPFL Premiership with renewed hope and an exciting, vibrant young team. Having recently signed an extension to his contract as Aberdeen manager, Derek McInnes should still be in charge at Pittodrie. However, if he continues the success currently enjoyed, he may well be lured to pastures new.

And the swings of outrageous football fortune may well be in action again!


Mike Smith

Twitter @Mike1874





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