It has been a while since I last wrote and since then my beloved club have managed to consistently hang around in the top half of the table. We threatened to close in on the top two after taking four points from back-to-back matches against either half of the Old Firm towards the end of last year, but were brought back down to earth by failing to win in any of our next four. Even though the points were shared in two of those occasions, we failed to score once.
Aberdeen and Dundee United have also managed to take points off the Glasgow sides recently, leaving the battle for third place wide open.
Speculation about many of our top players has been rife during the current transfer window, although reports of a “fire sale” from some of the tabloid press have proved to be wide of the mark. Five days remain until the deadline and one or two could still leave, with names like Driver, Berra and Stewart reportedly attracting interest from England, Italy, Germany and Ukraine.
It was one of the above mentioned names, Andy Driver, who really made the difference on Saturday. It sounds crazy but although he didn’t have the best of games, the four occasions he did manage to get in behind the full back he created three goals and won a penalty – which Stewart failed to convert at 1-1. Caley Thistle left-back Rory McBain was booked for bringing Driver down and, in a moment of madness, was subsequently sent off for gesturing towards the linesman once his keeper had bailed him out.
Russell Duncan made post-match comments to the effect that his team-mate hadn’t made contact and that Driver had dived but the images clearly show McBain holding on to the Hearts youngster’s arm.
Hearts dominated the first half but failed to really trouble a defensive-minded Inverness side, who had just sacked Craig Brewster after seven straight defeats. And true to form, in a game they should have walked (on paper anyway), Hearts struggled and could have even ended up suffering their first home defeat since November.
David Obua, who has gone from villain to hero in the space of ninety minutes, opened the scoring not long before the break in an uneventful first half. He rose above goalkeeper Ryan Esson to nod the ball down before a combination of himself and McBain forced it over the line. Many referees would have whistled for a foul on the keeper but it is good to see them not being over protected for once. I am not a fan of the protection keepers get, especially when they already have a height advantage by being able to use their hands and usually jump with a protruding knee, and it was good to see a referee who doesn’t blow just because someone has gone within six feet of the man between the sticks.
Hearts defensive record of late speaks for itself, conceding only twice in the six matches prior to Saturday’s encounter. However, frailties were apparent when defending set-pieces. Dougie Imrie missed an absolute sitter of a free header in the first half and it was through this method that recent signing Pavels Mihadjuks managed to wriggle free of Jonsson before heading Don Cowie’s free-kick past MacDonald.
Caley then took the game to a dazed home side and for a while looked as if they could take the lead. But Hearts managed to regain control and eventually got themselves back in front when Driver again linked up with Obua, who used his height advantage to get above Proctor and nod the ball in. The Ugandan international has taken a lot of stick from the demanding Hearts support, and to be fair he has deserved some of it, but he will have won over many of them with his display here.
The game seemed all but over when Obua gave away a stupid free kick around thirty yards from goal with around a minute of normal time remaining. Imrie, who couldn’t score a free header from two yards, rifled one of the best free-kicks that is likely to be seen at Tynecastle into the top corner of the goal.
A point would have been a tremendous result for ten-man Caley, who currently sit bottom of the SPL table, but within ten seconds of the restart Hearts regained the lead. Michael Stewart sent a terrific ball down the right wing for Driver who cut inside and found substitute Laryea Kingston unmarked to score the winner.
It was an undeserved victory for Hearts but once again they have shown character that has been lacking the previous two seasons. Wallace, Berra, Obua and Stewart (minus the penalty miss) all put in good performances but Driver deserves the most praise for his three assists, even though he blew hot and cold during the rest of the match.
It is no secret that we need a new striker, we rely on our midfield to get too many of our goals. Stephen Frail gave our lone-striker Christian Nade the man of the match award on BBC Radio Scotland but he was either watching a recording of a different game, or this is further evidence as to why he wasn’t successful as Hearts manager. Nade has scored two goals in twelve matches and only managed one shot on goal in the entire match on Saturday. He is rarely in a scoring position, finds himself far too deep too often and expects the wingers to do his closing down for him.
If we added a quality striker to our ranks then I am fairly confident will find ourselves in third place come the end of the season. The only problem being it looks as if we need to sell one of our top players for this to happen.
The highlights of the match can be seen (from a UK IP address) here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/scot_prem/7843797.stm
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