It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong against Dundee United on Saturday, but Hearts fans certainly shouldn’t get despondent on the back of one negative result for this new-look team.
When you lose an early goal against a team who have had a good start under a new manager, you’re always going to be up against it. Their tails were already up after beating Rangers the week before and then, when they find themselves a goal up after two minutes, they’re obviously going to be full of belief.
We weren’t helped by losing two of our most experienced players, Marius Zaliukas and Ryan Stevenson, and I think our day was best summed up by the fact we hit the crossbar twice. Marius certainly seemed to land awkwardly and his injury didn’t look good. As for Ryan, I think his red card was very harsh. He went to ground, but it wasn’t a patch on Yohan Cabaye’s tackle on Mousa Dembele in the Tottenham-Newcastle game. That should have been a red card and Ryan’s shouldn’t. There are obviously a few factors involved in the incident, namely the fact that Willie Collum was the ref who didn’t send Ryan off when he was retrospectively punished for his tackle on James McPake in last month’s Edinburgh derby.
There definitely seemed to be a case of trying to even things up on the referee’s part. If that was the case, and that’s the way he operates, then Hearts will be due a penalty off the same ref in the near future because we had a stonewaller turned down when McPake brought down Scott Robinson in the last derby.
Even after those setbacks, though, the team still stuck to their task. They kept their shape and I think all the young legs helped them get about the pitch. Despite losing the game, there were certainly plenty positives to take because we were still in it until pretty much the last kick of the game despite playing more than half of it with ten men against a team, who are far more experienced than us and who are clearly in a good place at the moment. We’ve got to take a lot of heart from the fact we didn’t let our heads go down when everything conspired against us. We’d have liked to have picked up more than a point from our last two away games, but we can remain in reasonably positive mood because we certainly haven’t been outplayed in either game.
Probably the only thing that went our way was results elsewhere, with the likes of Motherwell, Inverness, Aberdeen and St Mirren all not winning either. In the context of climbing the table and making the top six, that was our one saving grace. Even though our immediate rivals, like United, Ross County and Kilmarnock all won, there are still only eight points between second-top and second-bottom.
The game against Killie on Saturday is now massive though because, as Ryan Stevenson said in the Evening News last week, time is running out if we are to make sure we are in the top six. If we beat them, we will then go ahead of them and we can then look at picking some of the others off as we go.
I look at the Kilmarnock team and I recognise very few of their players, so it’s testament to Kenny Shiels that he’s got them doing pretty well with a team of largely unheralded players. There’s so little between the SPL teams that it’s impossible to call Saturday’s game. They’ve got a good record at Tynecastle recently, so it certainly won’t be easy. We’ve just got to keep hanging in there and ensure we’re in the mix when it comes to the split. Making the top six is particularly important for a club of Hearts’ stature, particularly in light of our well-documented financial troubles.