GLIMPSES of the future can sometimes prove illusory, but Hearts fans would have been praying that what they saw in this match was a genuine foretaste of things to come.
Hearts 2, Dunfermline 0
August 24, 2002
In a magical five-minute spell, the home team not only won the game, but played with a verve and adventure that could only bode well for the rest of the season.
As first Graham Weir, then Mark de Vries got on the scoresheet, the notion that the side had just lost its last major talent seemed absurd.
Antti Niemi, who watched the second half from the stand, was set to complete his move to Southampton, and while his experience was certainly going to be missed, his soon-to-be former team-mates responded in the best way to his loss.
Roddy McKenzie, the Finn’s replacement in the Tynecastle goal, played his part by keeping Hearts’ first clean sheet of the Premierleague campaign, but this victory was very much a collective effort.
After a quiet first half shaded by Dunfermline, Hearts took a grip on the game, initially thanks to Scott Severin in midfield; then, with space opening up, first Jean-Louis Valois and then Paul McMullan provided the crosses for the goals.
The defence then stood firm for the remaining half-hour.
This was for the most part a richly entertaining display in which some of the least-experienced players in Craig Levein’s squad played just as big a part as the seasoned professionals.
Graham Weir, for example. The 18-year-old striker rose “like a very small salmon”, as the stadium announcer put it, for his goal and harried the Dunfermline defence like a very irritating piranha for the rest of the afternoon.
Young McMullan, also 18, showed some marvellous touches and left Barry Nicholson for dead up the wing before providing the cross for De Vries’s headed goal.
Of the two close-season additions, De Vries had made the headlines, but Valois looked just as important. Having signed the big target man he was after, Levein was well aware that such a player would be wasted without a decent supply of crosses, and in Valois he had recruited the ideal supplier.
Flashy and French, Valois may have been superficially reminiscent of David Ginola, but he was altogether more willing to mark back than his more illustrious compatriot. His run for the first goal, in which he beat three men before delivering the cross for Weir, clearly inspired others such as McMullan to have a go.
Meanwhile, McKenzie, who had been second fiddle for most of his decade with the club, would now receive an extended opportunity to prove himself up to the task of being Hearts’ first-team goalkeeper.
There were moments, as Dunfermline pressed in the second half, when communication with the defence was not all it could be, and McKenzie sliced one attempted clearance, sending it for a corner. On the other hand, though, he pulled off a fine save from a direct free kick and was in equal parts relieved and delighted at the prospect of a long run in the side after so much time admiring from the substitutes’ bench.
If McKenzie was rarely troubled, it was not for Dunfermline’s want of trying.
Having begun the game in third place to Hearts’ fourth, they played at first with a fair amount of confidence. Once the breakthrough came at the other end, though, their efforts, while remaining patient and thoughtful, became more futile by the minute.
Hearts: McKenzie, Maybury, McMullan, McKenna, Pressley, Boyack, Simmons, Severin, Valois, De Vries, Weir.