MANY suspected Hearts might come unstuck in Fife against a Dunfermline team fighting for their SPL existence.
That they didn’t was down to a seven-minute burst at the start of the second half incorporating the two goals which killed this game as a contest.
The Edinburgh club have now lost only once in their past seven matches having built up useful momentum entering next weekend’s Scottish Cup semi-final.
Paulo Sergio again didn’t appear at the post-match media conference to convey his thoughts on the game, but his input was unquestionably crucial to the final outcome.
Hearts retreated at half-time following a notably lacklustre first half in which Dunfermline had played the better football.
Whatever motivational speech Sergio delivered during his interval team-talk had the desired effect and the visitors were an altogether different proposition when the second 45 minutes began; one which Dunfermline simply couldn’t live with.
Gary Glen scored first from a tight angle before a Darren Barr header put Hearts in command just seven minutes after half-time. A Marius Zaliukas own goal – yes, another one – made for an unnecessarily fraught last few minutes as Dunfermline pressed for an equaliser.
However, the 2-1 scoreline remained intact and a difficult away fixture was negotiated on a weekend when some predicted Hearts would be eyeing their semi-final against Celtic.
“It was a big three points and a hard-working performance,” explained first-team coach Gary Locke, deputising for Sergio. “We felt at half-time that we didn’t do ourselves justice in the first half.
“Credit to Dunfermline, they showed they are battling for their lives and they gave everything. But I thought in the second half, once we started to get the ball down and pass it a wee bit quicker, we were in control of the game and we’re delighted with the three points.
“At half-time, Paulo felt we weren’t moving the ball quick enough and weren’t showing for the ball as well as we have done in recent weeks.
“The players did that in the second half and we were a lot happier with the second half than the first. “It’s a big week coming up now. We have the chance of getting to a cup final. Celtic had a fantastic result and well done to them on winning the league. But we’ll get back on the training ground because we have a big week ahead. Hopefully we get a good result against them.”
Despite Sergio suggesting young players would be heavily involved in this game, it was an easily recognisable and experienced Hearts team which took the field. The only notable absentees were Andy Webster and Craig Beattie due to thigh and heel injuries respectively.
Dunfermline started the match in confident fashion and created the first opening when Andy Kirk headed Austin McCann’s cross over Jamie MacDonald’s crossbar on 19 minutes. The Northern Irish striker then volleyed high again after fastening on to Paul Willis’s head flick in behind the Hearts defence.
The visitors were restricted to occasional ventures forward and looked rather disjointed when they did try to build an attack. Andy Driver’s 38th-minute volley, which was blocked by the foot of Gary Mason, was Hearts’ first genuine attempt at goal.
Then, on the stroke of the interval, came a priceless opportunity gift-wrapped by Dunfermline. Ian Black’s lofted through ball was headed tamely back towards goal by McCann. Glen intercepted the ball and prodded it past the advancing Chris Smith, only for Alex Keddie to scamper in behind his goalkeeper and clear the danger.
Glen succeeded in finding the net moments after the interval. Danny Grainger’s cross ricocheted into the striker’s path and he produced a calm finish to stroke the ball into the corner of the net from an extremely acute angle.
Four minutes later came the second and decisive goal via the head of Barr after Keddie had cleared a Ryan McGowan header off his own goal line.
With five minutes remaining, Dunfermline accorded themselves a lifeline. Lively substitute Joe Cardle skipped past an opponent and delivered a driven left-footed ball across goal which Zaliukas inadvertently turned into his own net.
Another own goal by the captain meant needless uncertainty in the closing stages for those from Edinburgh.
But, although Dunfermline pressed and harried Hearts in search of an equaliser, the closest they came was Cardle’s wayward free-kick from 20 yards in the dying seconds of stoppage time.
Afterwards, Glen explained his relief at scoring for the first time since May last year: “It has been a wait, but it’s good to get on the scoresheet.
“I should have buried the one in the first half, but I got another chance in the second half and I’m just delighted to score. Injuries at the start of the season held me back, but when the gaffer puts me in to do the job, I have to go and do that job.
“I’ve been working hard in training every day, so when you score a goal it gives you a bit of confidence.”
Glen added that he prefers to play as part of a two-man forward line – he was supported by the roaming Rudi Skacel against Dunfermline – but is happy to perform whichever role Sergio gives him.
“The gaffer prefers to play one up front, so I’m not going to question his tactics.
“We won the game with myself up front and there have been games we’ve won with Beats [Craig Beattie] up front himself. It’s okay playing one up front, but I would prefer to play with two. It’s easier for linking up.”