This was one of the most peculiar afternoons I’d spent at Tynecastle in quite some time.
With all due respect to our opponents yesterday (and I appreciate that these words are normally followed by comments that DO show complete disrespect!), the prospect of facing up to Inverness at Tynecastle wasn’t exactly one to get levels of anticipation flowing to any great degree. In fact, if you’d offered me an afternoon in the battle cruiser as an alternative, with full access to the results programme on SKY accompanied by a few medicinal pints of Best (preferably the extra cold variety), then I’d have found it very difficult indeed to turn down…….and incidentally I’d have felt exactly the same way at half-time during the ensuing game!
Such thoughts remained a fantasy however, and as usual I took my seat in the Wheatfield Stand for the entire duration of this match, which was a reality I’m now very pleased about for a number of reasons.
For a start we had a perfectly and poignantly observed minute’s silence to respect the lives of the recently departed trio of former Hearts heroes, including the great Alfie Conn, a member of the club’s famous ‘Terrible Trio’ of the 1950s.
Secondly, I had the privilege (and I’m not taking the p**s here) of my first Tynecastle pie in probably more than a decade…and I tell you what, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the latest addition to my health-laden January detox(!) – it was certainly a far cry from that hideous, meaty monstrosity at the old Douglas Park back in the late ’80s that had me on the council gritter for more than three days!
And then of course we had the ‘main event’, namely the match itself. Our manager-less visitors Inverness have rarely been one of those teams to come to Tynecastle and set out an ultra-defensive stall, no matter who has been their manager, and once again it was pleasing to see them coming to the capital intent on trying to win the game.
As hinted at earlier, the first half was in all honesty everything that I’d dreaded this whole afternoon could become – a damp squib in the extreme. Hearts were able at times to play keep-ball rather nicely to be fair, but all too often they had very little to show for the pretty-ness in their build-up, and with the exception of a couple of skirmishes in and around the penalty area, they didn’t create anything particularly clear-cut.
Indeed the closest they came to scoring was actually via a Caley defender, who almost turned the ball past his own goalkeeper when getting on the end of Andy Driver’s dangerous low cross. Ryan Esson however, got down smartly to smother.
The best chances of the first half undoubtedly fell to the visitors, despite the fact that in terms of possession, they’d barely been in the game as a genuine attacking force. The first of those was as glaring a miss as you’re ever likely to see, when Dougie Imrie ghosted into space at the back post to get on the end of Cowie’s curling free-kick. Imrie looked certain to score with the goal at his mercy, but he somehow managed to head it into the side netting with the goal gaping.
Then, just a few minutes later, Caley came agonisingly close again, when from Iain Vigurs’ driven low cross, Garry Wood’s clever back-heel from inside the six yard box fizzed just wide of MacDonald’s left hand post. Wood looked suspiciously offside when the ball was played through to him, but if he had hit his mark the goal would most definitely have stood – there was no sign of a linesman’s flag.
Just as the half looked as though it would draw to a goalless close though, Hearts rather unexpectedly took the lead, and it came from an even more unexpected source in David Obua, who was once again being tried out in a different position, this time on the right wing for some reason.
Andy Driver, Hearts’ most dangerous-looking player throughout this match, did the spade-work, and his cross into the six-yard area allowed Obua to challenge goalkeeper Esson for the ball. The ‘keeper looked to have it under control, but Obua appeared to head it out of his hands and just over the line despite the valiant attempts of a Caley defender. The visitors were furious that the goal was allowed to stand and probably with pretty good reason – I personally don’t think that what Obua did should ever be a foul as he won the ball cleanly as far as I could see, but I would confidently say that nine times of of ten, a challenge like that would result in a free-kick for a ‘foul’ on the ‘keeper. Once again inconsistency proved to be the problem here, with Caley being the fall guys on this occasion. However, we’ve been there ourselves haven’t we? And how.
Half time 1-0
If the first half had been a tame affair with little of note to talk about, then the second most certainly addressed any potential awkward silences likely to occur in the pubs around Tynecastle afterwards.
Quite simply it had everything: four goals (including a glorious free-kick and a dramatic late winner), a missed penalty, a red card, controversy-galore and some genuinely exciting football at times. What on earth happened in that half-time interval I wonder?!
Caley came out for the second half an entirely different team, perhaps angered into action by their sense of injustice at the Obua goal.
After ten minutes of almost incessant pressure from the visitors, they got their reward. Cowie once again sent in a teasing ball to the Hearts penalty area, and for once a Caley player got there in front of either Berra or Jonsson when Mihadjuks powered in a header to leave MacDonald helpless. Game on and Caley were not resting on their laurels.
Just a few moments after the equaliser, Ross Tokley blasted a great chance over the bar from just eight yards out – cue the predictable chorus of boos that you tend to get at Tynecastle when things aren’t going particularly well for the home side.
The jeers from the stands got even louder when Csaba Laszlo made the controversial decision to take off Bruno Aguiar to make way for Gary Glen. It wasn’t that the fans weren’t happy to see the recent Edinburgh derby cup hero entering the fray, but to take off Aguiar, who’d been one of the few Hearts players doing anything of positive note out there, was rather baffling, even if it was to merely allow Csaba’s team to continue playing the same tactic (Glen came on as a straight replacement for Bruno).
Regardless of your views on this decision though, there is no denying that Hearts had much more urgency about them after this switch. Shortly afterwards they had a great chance to re-take the lead when Driver, who had been switched across to the right hand side to allow Obua over to the left, burst into the box and was pulled back by Caley defender McBain. Referee Conroy thought about it for a few seconds before pointing to the spot, much to the annoyance of the visiting defence.
All sorts of gamesmanship and interruptions ensued as Conroy struggled to keep the peace, and the net effect of this clearly bore fruit for Caley, when the under-fire Stewart saw his kick brilliantly saved by Esson. To be fair to Stewart it really wasn’t the worst penalty you’ll ever see – definitely more of a good save than a bad miss, but sadly this was a missed opportunity to allow the player to win his way back into many of the fans’ good books.
The pressure was not off the visitors though as tempers continued to boil over, and it was McBain who lost it more than anyone else when was involved in an off-the-ball incident that saw him receiving his marching orders. The only real surprise was that he didn’t take at least one more Caley player with him, as they really were losing their discipline quite badly at this stage.
Insult was then added to injury as far as Caley were concerned, when Obua, who in all honesty wasn’t having a great game, scored his second of the game when he got on the end of Driver’s superlative cross to power a header past Esson to make it 2-1. Surely that would be that…..we hoped.
But this match had a few more twists to take yet, none more so than in the 88th minute, when Imrie blasted home the sort of free-kick that he’ll probably never get close to again in his career. Lining up some 25-30 yards out from goal, he rattled home an unbelievable shot from the dead ball that smashed in off MacDonald’s cross-bar. There were many people in the home end applauding despite the apparent heartbreak of having two points taken away from us right at the death – it was THAT good strike.
However just as Tynecastle was emptying in its droves, Hearts went straight up the park to score arguably just as good a goal for entirely different reasons. Right from the centre, Stewart sent Driver away again down the right with a great pass. The winger’s touch was sublime and he burst into the box again just as he did for the penalty and Obua’s second, before squaring to the unmarked Kingston, who coolly rolled it into the corner to make it 3-2. A terrific finish to a quite remarkable second half.
When we look back at this game it’s definitely one that we should hold our hands up and admit that we were lucky in, but we should give credit where it’s due for the way that Hearts fought back when they weren’t playing particularly well. This could turn out to be an absolutely crucial three points for the club, especially given that Dundee United were also able to grind out a similar victory over St Mirren yesterday.
Now Csaba. about the striking situation….any progress with potential new recruits?!
Perhaps could have gotten a hand to the first Caley goal, but no chance with the second. Little to do apart from that.
Not his greatest afternoon, even if he was rarely tested defensively. Poor control and distribution at times.
Reasonably solid in defence and had some decent runs forward.
Generally pretty rock solid throughout, although will be disappointed at the nature of Caley’s first goal.
Proving to be an able deputy for Zaliukas at centre half.
Not the greatest game he’s had lately – unusually careless at times, although never hid.
Started the game very well with some really good long-range passes, but too often attempted something more difficult than the simple option. Will be disappointed with the penalty, but helped to make up for it with a great pass to Driver at the winning goal.
Not always involved but when he was he frightened the life out of Caley. Won a penalty and set up all three goals from different sides of the park – you can’t really ask for much more can you?
Did well to score two goals so we must give him credit for that, but generally he looked a tad lost out on the right wing. Hopefully the goals give him confidence though, and we’ll finally found out if he really does have a best position!
Was playing quite well when he was surprisingly withdrawn for Glen. Looked understandably raging about the decision, so hopefully will burst back in the next game and take his aggression out on the opposition in a constructive way.
Did pretty well on his own in attack in terms of keeping the ball, etc. But still not really much of a goal threat.
Didn’t really do an awful lot, but his lively runs did help to up the tempo after his introduction.
Hardly on the park but was in the right place at the right time to coolly scored the winner.