Well quite a bit has happened since I’ve been away. Two wins in the league and a penalty defeat to our serial bogey team Airdrie in the League Cup. You have to go back to 1992 to find the last time we defeated the North Lanarkshire club and even though they have been in the divisions below us for most of that time, three semi-final trips to Hampden still stand out as some of the worst memories in recent times.
I listened to the most recent encounter as Hearts once again pressed for that unobtainable victory. When I heard Lee Wallace’s name mentioned during the penalty shootout I just knew he was going to miss. It’s a shame for the guy, who is already under pressure from some of the boo-boys at Tynecastle for his relatively poor start to the season. New goalkeeper Marian Kello then bailed him out by saving one of Airdrie’s next two penalties and it was up to another new boy, David Obua, to score and take the game into sudden death.
I have since seen the highlights and Obua has no one to blame but himself. I have always cringed when players stand over a spot kick and think they can put it away by only taking a couple of steps and this is what he thought he could do. John Robertson and Peter Beardsley, amongst many others, were two that used to run from outside the box and they scored the vast majority of their penalties. Taking a longer run-up makes it more difficult for the goalkeeper to guess which way the ball is going.
Or maybe Obua was never going to score anyway due to the curse that descends upon us when we take on Airdrie. I guess that Diamonds always trump Hearts.
The League Cup aside, the team’s league position after the two recent wins against St Mirren and Hamilton give some cause for optimism. The wins were by no means emphatic but wins are wins and we are now sitting in third place, with one trip to Ibrox out of the way, and we had scored more goals than any other team until Rangers hammered Celtic in the first Old Firm of the season.
Despite this, there are still grumbles that we need a striker. This may be true, although according to the stats you would think we needed a defender. Transfer deadline deals for Derek Riordan and Alan Gow fell through as they decided to opt for Hibs and Blackpool respectively, but we still have Mike Tullberg recovering from injury and time will tell if he can provide the firepower in attack.
The passing of the transfer window deadline prompted Hearts to state on their website that Christos Karipidis will be staying after speculation linking him with a move back home to Greece. Although usually a central defender, Karipidis has started all five matches in the centre of midfield. He has done quite well but I wonder whether Csaba Laszlo prefers Zaliukas and Berra in defence and wanted to give Karipidis games to ensure he remained at the club. Either that or he doesn’t see him as a central defender and has stumbled upon a position that suits him better.
Just as strange was to see Eggert Jonsson at full back. Again, with being away I have only managed to see highlights of the recent matches (a paltry 2mins 47 were provided by the BBC for the Hamilton match – when are we going to get a decent highlights package for the SPL?) but I understand he has done quite well. This could turn out to be a master stroke from Csaba, who has obviously realised that we are weak at full back. Jason Thomson started the season well but is pretty much useless at going forward.
Karipidis could drop back and play as a third central defender at times during matches to allow full backs Jonsson and Wallace to push forward and support the wingers. Wallace is too poor defensively to be a full back but there are no other options so it will be interesting to see if Csaba decides to focus on his strengths and get him forward as often as possible.
The World Cup Qualifiers begin this week so no match to preview but well done to Michael Stewart for again making his way into the Scotland squad to face Macedonia in the soaring heat, albeit after six players pulled out injured. He came on as a sub against Northern Ireland and didn’t look out of place apart from one stray pass; in fact I think he had a better game than Darren Fletcher did that night. ‘mon Scotland!!