I was really looking forward to this match, my appetite whetted after watching the fantastic skills and thrills of Arsenal`s Champions League encounter with Barcelona in midweek. Incredibly, our match with Dundee United followed the same pattern – well, eh, the same scoring pattern that is. Sadly, that was where the similarity ended.
Andy Webster made his “new” home debut, with Eggert Jonsson at right-back, while David Obua was the player selected to assist Stephen Elliott up front.
Hearts looked strangely lethargic and out of touch for much of the first half, epitomised by Lee Wallace showing poor judgement on a number of occasions before he had to retire injured (replaced by Craig Thomson). The visitors had the ball in the Gorgie Road end net after only 2 minutes when Goodwillie knocked home a corner – but referee Calum Murray ruled it out for a foul.
3 minutes later however United took the lead when Barry Douglas stooped to glance a cross from Goodwillie over a surprised Marian Kello and into the net.
Suso Santana had some decent runs down the right, but Hearts didn`t carry much threat in front of goal. In one move, he fed a fine ball for Skacel to run in on the keeper – but Rudi had too much time to think what he was going to do, and Dillon was able to stop him. Another couple of Skacel shots from 20 yards was all Hearts could offer, until Stephen Elliott ran through the inside right channel to take a pass in injury time and fire a decent shot to Pernis`s right. The keeper should have held it, but spilled it and Rudi Skacel was sharp enough to anticipate such an event by sliding in to force it into the net for the equaliser.
With United having lost skipper Gary Kenneth with a knee injury, the loss of their lead right on half-time must have been a big blow, since they had been the better team in the first half.
Templeton replaced the ineffective Obua for the second half, and his presence immediately offered more options for Hearts, with Palazeulos performing much better at left-back than he had done in midfield. However the game was becoming a dour physical midfield battle – Black committed a bad yet needless foul in the centre circle to receive his booking, while Watson and Dixon were booked for fouls on Templeton and Suso.
Andy Webster then saved the day for Hearts with an excellent tackle to deny Goodwillie a great shooting chance in the box. JJ replaced Suso with Andrew Driver and he helped swing the game in Hearts favour in the closing 10 minutes by forcing the visitors into some desperate defending. From one of the resulting corners, captain Marius Zaliukas bulleted home a header to give the home team the lead. As the fans noisily celebrated the prospect of another 3 points, they were silenced when a long ball behind the Hearts defence saw Palazuelos tangle with David Robertson in the box. Referee Murray pointed to the spot, and our hearts sank at the thought of the victory being snatched away in injury time.
Personally, I thought it was rather a soft penalty – the United man seemed to “go to ground too easily”, as media pundits like to say about non-Old Firm players. And quite why Palazuelos was shown a red card for it beats me. While players argued with the referee, Skacel, Webster and Thomson seemed to indulge in a bit of talk with Goodwillie as he waited to take the kick. Maybe they were reminding him that Kello had already saved 2 penalties already this season ? Anyway, that became THREE when Marian dived to his left to parry the shot – the rebound was at an awkward height for Goodwillie as he rushed in, and he knocked it over the bar.
So it`s another vital 3 points for Hearts, as we wait to see which of the Old Firm teams drops points tomorrow. Today`s performance was definitely below the level we`ve come to expect, with all of our creative players struggling to make an impact on the game. Our top men were probably Webster, Zaliukas, Thomson and Kello. Let`s hope for more guile from the likes of Skacel, Elliott and Wallace at Aberdeen next week.