MANCHESTER CITY needed a penalty to win 2-1 at Tynecastle last night as Hearts’ new-look side stood up to England’s Premier League winners.
After trialist Osman Sow cancelled out Scott Sinclair’s first-half goal with his second strike in two trial outings, the experienced Aleksandar Kolarov rammed a spot-kick past young goalkeeper Jack Hamilton with ten minutes remaining.
It was a night when many feared City could leave with a comfortable victory given their array of international talent. Yet Hearts did not look outclassed and had several impressive performances of their own in front of a crowd of 12,188. Recent signings Alim Ozturk and Morgaro Gomis were combative and passed the ball intelligently. In attack, Sow gave home supporters another glimpse of what he can produce and is now expected to become Hearts’ next signing.
This glamorous pre-season friendly was arranged to mark the centenary of Tynecastle’s main stand and City had brought the Barclays Premier League trophy with them for the occasion. It sat on display on the pitch prior to kick-off. City’s World Cup stars were not present, but those in sky blue did show in the first half why their club had won one of the world’s best leagues.
After the break, it was Hearts who passed the ball better, scored a fine goal but ultimately conceded late on.
“We were courageous on the ball, our midfielders took it in tight areas and dealt with it,” explained Robbie Neilson, the head coach. “It’s important there’s no negativity if it doesn’t happen. We made a few wee errors in possession but, on the whole, I thought we passed it well and quickly. That’s what we want.
“It’s always nice when we pass the ball and you see things happening that you’ve worked on in training. We’re getting there. I hope the fans are encouraged. Some of our movement and passing is exciting but we need a few more shots at goal. Sometimes we play the next pass so that’s something to work on.”
City included reputable names like Alvaro Negredo, Samir Nasri and Jesus Navas in their starting line-up. Hearts deployed Sow up front as a trialist once again as negotiations continue to sign the Swede permanently. They should be completed over the weekend.
It was Nasri who had the game’s first shot on four minutes but it didn’t test Neil Alexander, one of five recent signings experiencing Tynecastle for the first time as a home player.
The 1000 Manchester City supporters who had travelled north, many of whom intended to make a weekend of it in Edinburgh, were in fine voice early on. They would know, of course, that their team had plenty gears to find before the serious business of defending the aforementioned trophy starts next month.
A run full of jinks and twists from Kevin McHattie earned rapturous applause from the home support as he tormented England internationalist Micah Richards on the left flank. Moments later, Sow headed Sam Nicholson’s cross wide. That was Nicholson’s last involvement as he was withdrawn early, apparently because of an injury. Jamie Walker opened the City defence up with a perfect through ball to Dale Carrick on 18 minutes. The striker’s left-footed effort was parried by Richard Wright, enjoying a rare outing in goal under manager Manuel Pellegrini.
Just as Hearts threatened to stamp some authority on proceedings, a swift attacking move saw City take the lead on 25 minutes. Negredo, on the edge of the hosts’ penalty area, was alert enough to slide a precise pass in behind Callum Paterson. Sinclair’s movement saw him receive the ball and slot it past Alexander in a one- against-one situation.
The pace and deadly finish hinted at the potential of Pellegrini’s side. The veteran Chilean emerged only occasionally from his dugout in the first half but didn’t seem in the mood to get animated at all. Not with his team enjoying the bulk of possession, anyway. Neilson, on the other hand, spent much of the first 45 minutes on the edge of his technical area.
He would have been pleased with Hearts’ insistence on playing the ball out from defence on the ground. It is a tactic which still needs some work, for they came close to losing possession a couple of times, but augurs well for the kind of football Neilson wants.
Negredo limped off near half-time after appearing to go over on his left ankle delivering a cross. He wasn’t due to appear for the second half in any case as Pellegrini had a pre-match plan to change ten of his starting line-up. Jack Rodwell, Kolarov and recent signings Fernando and goalkeeper Willy Caballero were amongst those who took over. The only player not replaced was goalscorer Sinclair.
It had been a quiet night for Sow generally, yet the composure he showed when scoring the equaliser on 61 minutes proved why Hearts badly want his signature. Carrick was the instigator with a mesmerising run from inside his own half with the ball. He skipped past two opponents to thread a perfect through pass to Sow. In behind the square-looking City defence, the giant Swede made no mistake with his left-footed finish past Caballero. He limped off seconds later knowing he had shown a touch of class against a top-quality side.
“I thought he took his goal well and gave us a different dimension. He held the ball in and showed pace. His finish was great,” said Neilson.
Kolarov became a target for some jeering after giving Paterson a mouthful inside the City penalty area. He was unhappy at the teenager sliding in for a cross and hurting Caballero in the process, but the Tynecastle regulars were quick on the Serbian’s case. City were less of a threat as the second half progressed. John Guidetti’s left-footed attempt from 20 yards arced wide but generally Hearts were marginally the better team as the game neared its final ten minutes.
Then came the penalty, given against Paterson for fouling Emyr Huws inside the box. Hearts had replaced central defenders Ozturk and Danny Wilson with Brad McKay and Jordan McGhee and they failed to deal with a cross from City substitute Gael Clichy. The ball reached Huws on the far side and he moved past Paterson before being impeded. Kolarov stepped up and ignored the loud booing to slam the ball low into the corner, leaving substitute goalkeeper Hamilton helpless.
“It’s one of those things. The ball came in, Callum didn’t see the boy and he got across him. I’ve no complaints,” admitted Neilson. Young Hamilton produced an excellent save low to his right to deny Stevan Jovetic in the final few minutes. Jovetic then flashed a shot across the face of goal as City finished the match in full flow. Their Scottish training trip began with a 2-0 loss against Dundee at Dens Park on Sunday but they left the field at Tynecastle to plenty applause after a win which was, overall, deserved.
For Hearts, there were also many positives, not least the fine defensive display by centre-back Ozturk. He was assured and confident against a decent array of attacking talent. His partnership with Wilson will underpin Neilson’s side this season. Indeed, throughout Neilson’s team there looks to be the base of a solid side.
Hearts (4-2-3-1): Alexander (Hamilton 71); Paterson, Ozturk (McKay 71), Wilson (McGhee 77), McHattie; Buaben (Robinson 60), Gomis (Oliver 77); Nicholson (King 16), Carrick (D Smith 57), Walker (Holt 57); Sow (Keatings 57). Subs: Hamilton, McKay, McGhee, Robinson, Oliver.
Manchester City (first half, 4-2-3-1): Wright; Richards, Rekik, Nastasic, Leigh; Garcia, Zuculini; Navas, Nasri, Sinclair; Negredo.
Manchester City (second half, 4-4-2): Caballero; Bossaerts (Clichy 72), Boyata, Denayer, Kolarov; Sinclair, Rodwell, Fernando, Huws; Jovetic, Guidetti.
Referee: Steven McLean.