Despite the bitter cold, a good crowd turned up at Tynecastle to watch what was billed as a clash of the 2 SPL in-form teams – and the match lived up to expectations. With the Wheatfield and Gorgie stands virtually full and a healthy crowd in the Roseburn, I was astonished to hear the attendance being announced as less than 13,000 – I would have estimated at least 1,500 more than that.
Although both defences looked strong, each side had players capable of creating scoring chances – especially Hearts. The line-up was back to its normal look, with Jonsson and Black returning. After a quiet start, Inverness to the lead after 15 minutes, when Munro headed a free-kick towards goal – the dangerous Rooney may or may not have got a touch to it as it eluded Kello. Stevenson came on for Bouzid after 22 minutes, with Mrowiec moving to centre-back alongside Zaliukas.
Some typical clever play by Templeton forced the ICT defenders to crowd him out by any means possible as he drove into the box. His claim for a penalty when he looked to be impeded was punished by referee Winter (appropriate name considering the conditions !!) with a yellow card for “simulation”. It looked to me as if it would have merited a free-kick to Hearts if it had happened outside the box – so I wonder if the SFA have now identified young David as “one to watch”, much as they did with Miko a few years ago.
Hearts won a penalty in the 24th minute, when some good passing around the edge of the Inverness box resulted in Stephen Elliott running on to a through ball, only for keeper Esson to bring him down. A yellow card for the keeper, and Kevin Kyle sent him the wrong way to bring the scores level.
Another piece of typical skill from Templeton saw him crash a 25-yard shot off the post, while both Kyle and Elliott passed up decent close-range chances. Skacel and Stevenson also had decent shots which were saved or blocked.
Hearts stepped up the pressure after the interval, with some wonderful flowing moves down each flank after slow build-up from the back. Esson made several good saves, and the visitors defence stood firm in the face of great pressure – roared on by a home support who were enjoying another entertaining performance from Hearts. Mind you, Adam Rooney had the ball in the Roseburn net, but was ruled offside – quite a close decision, I thought. So despite some clever Hearts play and shots that went inches wide, the game ended 1-1.
Although a Hearts win would have taken them on to the same points total as Celtic, I wouldn’t view this as a lost opportunity. The visitors are undefeated away from home in 2010, and you could see why – a well-organised defence, a tireless midfield, and quick tricky players up front. Much like Hearts actually.
I thought Black, Stevenson and the 4 defenders were excellent today – and the team still managed to create several good attempts on goal with their patient build-ups and slick controlled passing.
There`s no doubt that we are now seeing a better standard of skill and shape under JJ, compared to recent seasons, and fans will surely start to turn up in good numbers to enjoy this kind of football.