SO WHEN it seems as if nothing on earth can break the deadlock in a football match of excruciating, continuous stalemate, you clearly need a little assistance from above.
Hearts 3-0 Kilmarnock
March 14, 2001
Hearts won this game with two moments of divine fortune, a deflected goal by Thomas Flogel and the ordering-off of the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, Gordon Marshall, egging them on to complete a 3-0 victory when it seemed like goals had become a gratuitous threat to both sides’ defensive duties.
The result, settled by Juanjo’s cute free-kick after Marshall was shown the red card for handling outside the box, pulled Hearts within three points of their Ayrshire opponents and a possible UEFA Cup place.
In the end, Hearts won with a spectacular degree of aplomb, and Kilmarnock were fortunate not to be embarrassed by an even more damning scoreline.
Only twice was a ball struck in the direction of goal in a horrendous first half, and both incidents came from Kilmarnock, Garry Hay being denied by a Steven Pressley block and Antti Niemi saving well from Paul Wright.
Hearts’ necessary tactical rearrangements caused Flogel to be flung into attack alongside young Andy Kirk, and the Austrian’s performance grew in stature throughout the night. His glanced header on the half-time whistle finally caused Marshall to dirty his strip, but it drifted narrowly wide.
Juanjo, who had dribbled as prettily as ever in the first half, followed up with an example of his shooting ability, but his stinging effort was directed straight at Marshall.
As the clock ticked depressingly on, a sudden desperation to grasp the game by the scruff of the neck saw Flogel picking up a loose ball at the edge of the box and striking it, via an opponent’s leg, into the corner.
Then, though, Marshall’s night capitulated properly. When substitute Gary McSwegan was put through by an excellent Neil McCann pass, Marshall came to meet him and the striker attempted to poke the ball around his grounded body. The ball seemed to thud into the chest area of the former Celtic keeper, and as he stood up it rolled up and down his back. At some point, though, it must have brushed his arm.
As Tynecastle erupted in fury at the decision of referee George Mitchell to wave play on, the assistant referee was spotted waving his flag, and the outcome of their consultation was predictable. Marshall, an understandably forlorn figure, had to walk.
Being down to ten men did not cause Hearts’ second goal, but the necessary substitution did not help. Colin Meldrum never looked like reaching Juanjo’s exquisitely curved free-kick. Hearts had time for another piece of showmanship, Severin acrobatically converting Juanjo’s cross with his back to goal, 12 yards out.