Saturday, 26 July 2014

Heart of Midlothian 3 Annan Athletic 1

Petrofac Training Cup 1st Round, Saturday 26 July 2014 – Tynecastle 

After a season when the club was traumatised by administration and suffered relegation from the SPFL Premiership as a consequence, Hearts ended their first competitive fixture of the new season with a comfortable victory over League Two side Annan Athletic in the first round of the Petrofac Training Cup at Tynecastle on Saturday. 

That Hearts are in this competition is directly because they are no longer in the top flight of Scottish football. Thus, they faced Annan Athletic for the first time and the outcome of the game was never seriously in doubt. 

Billy King was the tormentor in chief in the early stages and he opened the scoring after just eight minutes with a brilliant effort, dancing past a bewildered Annan defence before blasting the ball into the net beyond Annan keeper Mitchell. 

It was, as you might expect, mostly one-way traffic towards the Annan Athletic goal. However, the visitors did have a free-kick from Hopkirk which Hearts keeper Neil Alexander dealt with comfortably.

After 20 minutes the home side were 2-0 ahead. Dale Carrick flicked a pass towards Osman Sow and the former Crystal Palace striker used his experience to outfox an Annan defender before slipping the ball beyond Mitchell from around 16 yards.

Sam Nicholson was proving a handful for the visitors hard-pressed defence and the youngster had two efforts on goal, one which went just over the crossbar and the other which was directly at keeper Mitchell.  

Hearts did get the third goal their play richly deserved just before half-time. Billy King’s corner from the right was powerfully headed home by Callum Paterson. Sadly, the right back suffered an injury just before the interval and was replaced by Jordan McGhee for the second half. Half-time: Hearts 3 Annan Athletic 0 

The second half followed the same pattern as the first with Sow, King, Carrick, McHattie and Nicholson all having decent attempts on goal. Credit to Annan Athletic, though, who worked incredibly hard, particularly in defence, to keep the Hearts team at bay. There was only one more goal in the second half – but not at the end most people thought it would be.  

In the final minute Annan substitute Davidson scored with a fine finish which went beyond Neil Alexander from the edge of the box. 

Overall, it was another decent performance from Hearts and one can see the way Robbie Neilson wants his young team to play. Possession is the name of the game these days in Gorgie and the ethos seems to be if the opposition don’t have the ball then they can’t do you any damage. It’s certainly pleasing on the eye. 

With several new signings it’s going take a little while for this new-look Hearts team to gel but some of the football they played on Saturday and last Friday against Manchester City has been delightful. If I’m being picky I could say that Hearts need to be more ruthless in the opposition penalty box. It could and indeed should have been 6-1 to the Maroons today. And new recruit Alim Ozturk will need to be told that the Scottish Championship is not a league where he will be able to dwell too long on the ball! 

That aside, the early signs look promising for Hearts.  

Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, McHattie, Wilson, Ozturk, Gomis, Sow, Nicholson, King, Buaben, Carrick.

Annan Athletic: Mitchell, Watson, Chisholm, McNiff, Black, Swinglehurst, McStay, Flynn, Todd, Hopkirk, Carcary. 

Referee: Callum Murray 

Att: 6,708

Top Man: Billy King. The youngster made a blistering start, then faded before coming back into the game again. A real prospect.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hearts Sign Osman Sow

Hearts today completed the formal signing of Osman Sow after the Swedish striker had appeared as a trialist in some of Hearts pre-seasons friendlies. The 6ft 4” former Crystal Palace player scored in Hearts 2-1 defeat from English champions Manchester City on Friday night and has impressed Head Coach Robbie Neilson. 

Neilson told the club’s official website he was delighted to have secured Sow’s services.  

‘He’s a tall, athletic player who will provide a presence to our forward line. He was highly-rated at Crystal Palace so it’s a real coup to get him’ said Neilson who is rapidly constructing a new-look Hearts team. Sow also scored against East Fife in another friendly. 

Hearts have already signed Turkish Under 21 defender Alim Ozturk, former Hamilton Accies striker James Keatings, former Scotland goalkeeper Neil Alexander, ex Rangers goalkeeper Scott Gallacher, striker Soufian El Hassnaoui and former Dundee United midfielders Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben as they prepare to joust with Rangers and Hibernian for promotion back to the top flight of Scottish football.


Friday, 18 July 2014

Heart of Midlothian 1 Manchester City 2

Pre-season friendly - Friday 18 July 2014 - Tynecastle

As pre-season friendlies go, Friday evening’s game between Hearts and FA Premiership holders Manchester City was a pretty decent effort. The glamour fixture, arranged to mark the centenary of the main stand at Tynecastle attracted a crowd of over 12,000 to Gorgie which was a pretty good turnout considering we’re in the middle of the holiday season. 

Hearts had Neil Alexander, Alim Ozturk, Morgaro Gomis, Prince Buaben and Osman Sow making their home debuts and all five players impressed, particularly Gomis who orchestrated things in midfield. 

The English champions weren’t quite at full strength - hardly surprising when you consider how many of the City squad were playing in the World Cup Finals in Brazil – but their starting eleven still included the likes of Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo, Micah Richards, Javi Garcia, Jesus Navas and Scott Sinclair, all of whom have considerable first-team experience.

Hearts began the game in sprightly fashion with young Sam Nicholson looking particularly impressive. Sadly, the young winger had to leave the field after just 15 minutes with what looked like an ankle knock. He was replaced by Billy King. 

City had the first real opportunity when Nasri got to a cross from Navas but the former Arsenal playmaker’s effort was saved by Neil Alexander. 

Dale Carrick then had a chance for the home team after he was set up by Jamie Walker and it took a fine save from Wright to deny the young Jambo. 

City took the lead in the 24th minute. Fine play from the impressive Negredo set up Sinclair who buried the ball past Neil Alexander to give the visitors the lead – although there was more than a suspicion of offside in the build-up. The Manchester side, who were cheered on by around a thousand City fans in the Roseburn Stand, went in one goal ahead at the interval. 

City made several substitutions at the break but if Hearts thought things would get any easier they were soon changing their minds when they saw the likes of Kolarov, Fernando and Rodwell appear for the second half. Nonetheless, it was Hearts who scored a fine equaliser in the 55th minute. Great possession play by Dale Carrick set up newcomer Osman Sow and the big centre forward showed fine composure before easing the ball beyond Caballero. The goal was all the more impressive when you consider Sow had taken a knock just before this and his last action before going off was to score Hearts equaliser.

The game looked like ending in a draw which would have been a fair result. However, with ten minutes left, Hearts right back Callum Paterson made a rash challenge on Huws inside the Hearts box to concede a penalty. Kolarov made no mistake with the spot kick and City held on to win 2-1. 

Considering the quality of the opposition, Hearts Head Coach Robbie Neilson can be pleased with his team’s showing. Even on this early evidence, it’s clear Hearts will be contenders for the Championship and promotion back to the Premiership. 

Hearts: Alexander (Hamilton, 70'), Paterson, McHattie, Wilson (McGhee, 75'), Ozturk (McKay, 70'), Gomis (Oliver, 75'), Walker (Holt, 56'), Buaben (Robinson, 59'), Sow (D. Smith, 56'), Carrick (Keatings, 56'), Nicholson (King, 16').  

Manchester City:  First half - Wright, Richards, Leigh, Nastasic, Rekik, Garcia, Zuculini, Sinclair, Nasri, Navas, Negredo. Second half - Caballero, Bossaerts (Clichy, 71'), Boyata, Kolarov, Denayer, Fernando, Rodwell, Sinclair, Huws, Jovertic, Guidetti.

Referee: Steven McLean  

Att: 12,188 

Top man: The highly impressive Morgaro Gomis.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Dark Side of the Beautiful Game is Nothing New

In the build up to this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the BBC broadcast some official World Cup films from yesteryear. I didn’t watch the 1966 one, for obvious reasons, but I did catch some of the official stories of the 1970 and 1974 World Cups. Now those of you who have read my occasionally inane ramblings in these pages - and I thank you both – may well be thinking ‘here he goes again, football was so much better when it was played in black and white etc. etc.’ But bear with me on this.

A good friend of mine – who is even older than I am – quite often bemoans the fact that the first aim of too many football teams these days is not to lose. He despairs at the cynicism in the game today, the diving, the harassment of the officials, and the lack of discipline. Old Charlie infers that the game was much more of a sport in days of old and that rampant commercialism and money-making has made football all the poorer. He might have a point but a look back half a century or more shows these traits are nothing new.

The 1970 World Cup in Mexico is the first finals I can recall, being just 8 years old at the time. By this time, television was making its mark and these finals were the first to be transmitted by colour television. Brazil, of course, lifted the trophy for the third time by defeating Italy 4-1 in the final and this game, dominated by Brazilian superstars such as Pele and Jairzhinho, is seen as the benchmark to which all football sides should attain. However, as the official FIFA film shows, cynicism, negativity and indiscipline were rife even during the self-proclaimed golden era of football.

The gifted Pele, arguably the best player the world has ever seen, was challenged by an Italian during the final and performed a dive which wouldn’t have been out of place in the pool for the Olympic Games held in the same country two years earlier. Pele fell to the ground clutching his ankle and appeared to be in agony. There seemed to be minimal contact, a suspicion enhanced moments later when Brazil scored and Pele bounded across the turf like a gazelle on heat.

Earlier in the finals the Russian team, concerned by the effects of the baking heat at a midday kick-off, opted to put those squad members who weren’t playing to line up for the pre-match presentations to officials prior to the game against hosts Mexico. Thus, those players who were in action were spared the rather unnecessary long wait in the sun before kick-off. Then there was the game between the hosts and El Salvador.

Mexico reacted to the apparent award of a free-kick to El Salvador by kicking the ball away. As El Salvador watched in bemusement, the referee did nothing, permitting the Mexicans to head up the park and score the opening goal. Rightly incensed, El Salvador hustled and bustled the Egyptian referee and even booted the ball out of play from the kick-off in protest. Mexico went on to win 4-0 and progressed to the quarter finals. Let’s face it, having the host nation in the knock-out stages would surely be preferable to having some no-hopers who were in their first ever World Cup finals…?

You may think a lack of discipline is recent affliction to the game. Not so. Forty years ago, Scotland headed to the World Cup finals in what was then West Germany with high hopes. The Scots had qualified from a group which included Czechoslovakia and Denmark and were on their way to their first World Cup finals in 16 years. In the build-up to the tournament, Scotland defeated England - who had failed to qualify for the finals – 2-0 at Hampden and optimism was again a welcome visitor to Scotland. However, it’s ne’er do well pal, indiscipline, was never far away. Celtic winger Jimmy Johnstone got involved in an incident two days before the England game which saw him cast afloat on a dinghy with only one oar on the Firth of Clyde. Of course, ‘Jinky’ as he was affectionately known, had imbibed on one too many alcoholic refreshments. Scotland manager Willie Ormond was under pressure to drop Johnstone for such indiscipline but played him anyway – and the little winger proceeded to destroy the English with a masterful display.

However, when Johnstone was involved in another incident during Scotland’s pre-World Cup friendly against Norway in Oslo – yet again, alcohol was the temptress – the S.F.A. chiefs made their feelings clear to manager Ormond. The result was that one of the best players this country has ever produced didn’t play in the World Cup finals even though he remained part of the squad. And the Scots went out on goal difference due to the fact they only defeated Zaire 2-0 – draws against reigning world champions Brazil and Yugoslavia weren’t enough. Thus, Scotland were the only undefeated team at the 1974 World Cup – champions West Germany lost a group game to rivals East Germany – but may have achieved so much more had the squad maintained their discipline. We can only dream of what Jimmy Johnstone would have done to Zaire had he been given the chance.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was a splendid tournament. It produced more positives than negatives. Something not every World Cup finals - even those from the so-called ‘golden age’ – can claim….

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Edinburgh City 2 Raith Rovers 2

Pre-season Friendly, Wednesday 9 July 2014 – Meadowbank Stadium 

There may have been the not so small matter of a World Cup semi-final live on television but this didn’t prevent about 150 people heading to Meadowbank Stadium on Wednesday evening to see Lowland League side Edinburgh City take on SPFL Championship side Raith Rovers in a pre-season friendly. 

On a beautiful summer’s evening, possibly the hottest day of the year, it was shirt-sleeve time in the east end of Edinburgh and the non-league side gave an honourable account of themselves against more senior opposition. 

Raith Rovers, with a smattering of former Hearts players in their side, including the much-maligned Christian Nade partnering fellow ex-Jambo Calum Elliot up front, began sprightly although the best chances, what there were of them, fell to the home side.

It wasn’t until the 24th minute that the first real goalscoring opportunity arrived. Rovers Mark Stewart was fouled in the penalty box – Elliot stroked home the resultant penalty kick and the visitors were ahead. 

Ten minutes later, City were level thanks to another penalty kick although the foul by Laurie seemed soft. Nico Gibson duly despatched the penalty and the home side were level. 

Four minutes before half-time, Ross Allum took advantage of poor defensive play from Rovers to hook the ball home and put the home side 2-1 ahead at the interval. 

Ten minutes into the second half, Rovers drew level when a fine effort from Ross Callachan crashed off the crossbar only to fall kindly for Christian Nade who tapped home the rebound. 

A few minutes later, Nade was involved in an altercation with City’s Joe Mbu and the referee seemed to gesture to the Rovers bench to substitute Nade before a red card came his way. The former Hearts man was none too pleased at coming off. 

The game ended at 2-2, a fine result and display from Edinburgh City who thoroughly deserved their draw against their higher league opponents.