FINANCIALLY, Hearts felt this was a worthwhile exercise as 5535 fans attended a fund-raising friendly against the respected Germans of VFL Wolfsburg. It may be just as beneficial from a footballing perspective as teenagers Adam King, Angus Beith and Jack Hamilton sampled first-team football for the first time at Tynecastle against a club sitting fifth in Germany’s Bundesliga.
All three played their part as Hearts faced up to a classy and well-drilled Wolfsburg team without looking out of place. Those involved could not fail to learn from the extremely fit, sharp and quick Germans. Yet the primary aim last night was raising money for the Edinburgh club following their descent into administration.
With the Main and Wheatfield stands opened, there was a reasonable turnout to see one of Germany’s most high-profile clubs on a chilly evening during international fortnight. Those who braved the cold saw a cultured performance from Wolfsburg – minus the headlining trio of Ivan Perisic, Ivica Olic and Diego – plus a glimpse at yet more youth academy graduates who are pushing for a place in Gary Locke’s first-team squad.
The Germans dominated possession and missed a first-half penalty through the impressive left winger Daniel Caligiuri. Hearts defended diligently and peppered the evening with the odd attack as their youngsters coped with opponents of a much higher calibre. “It’s a brilliant experience for them, you see the quality Wolfsburg have,” said Locke.
“Even just their physical presence. When they arrived, I don’t think one player was under 6ft. We had to do a lot of running, which was good for the fitness, but it’s been a great experience for them and hopefully they’ve learned from it. You saw the way Wolfsburg worked, not just with the ball. When the had it they were different class but when they didn’t have it they pressed us high up the pitch and never gave us a minute.
“I thought it was a great exercise for us and I’m really pleased a team of that quality could come to Tynecastle to play us. I thought a lot of our young boys acquitted themselves really well.”
Locke accessorised his club suit with a Hearts scarf for the evening. There was no-one better to appreciate the supporters’ commitment on the night. “It was a brilliant turnout,” he continued. “We’ve asked the fans time and time again to keep coming out and helping us and they’ve shown again what fantastic backing they give us. I’m a wee bit disappointed there wasn’t a bit more goalmouth action for them, but, at the end of the day, we were up against a really difficult side. I can only thank the fans again for their support.”
The most notable early incident was Brad McKay’s late tackle on Caligiuri after 14 minutes. In a competitive fixture, he would certainly have been cautioned. The Germans enjoyed plenty control of first-half proceedings, moving the ball from one side to another and patiently probing their opponents. They could not create many clear scoring chances but the general impression was they could increase the tempo at any point.
In the 36th minute, they did precisely that and earned a penalty. The dynamic Caligiuri drove into the box and was impeded by Danny Wilson, with referee Brian Colvin showing no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Caligiuri’s penalty technique left much to be desired, however, as the ball was scooped high over Ridgers’ crossbar and soared into the empty Gorgie Road Stand.
Two Ryan Stevenson shots which drifted wide were the sum total of the hosts’ attacking exertions in the first 45 minutes. The second period began with a first-team debut for 17-year-old Beith, who replaced Wilson.
Bas Dost’s 58th-minute volley was blocked by the legs of Ridgers, who also held Willi Evseev’s swerving free-kick moments later. Again the ball retention of Wolfsburg saw them largely command the second half, although it was still not matched by their finishing as Stefan Kutschke shot high from substitute Dustin Eilers’ low pass.
On 75 minutes, Jamie Walker flashed a left-footed shot across the face of the Wolfsburg goal, which goalkeeper Max Grun held. The Germans surged forward again and Evseev found himself through on goal, only to screw his shot wide.
Hearts introduced another debutant in 19-year-old Hamilton – the third-choice goalkeeper – who replaced Ridgers for the final five minutes. His first touch was a point-blank save from Evseev’s shot on the turn to ensure a blank scoreline on a night when the priority was never the result.
Locke will now grant many of his squad a few days off before they report back to Riccarton for training at the beginning of next week. “One or two who haven’t played as much will come in and train until the weekend, but the majority of them will get a few days off now.”
If any of them are wondering how to pass the spare time, watching the DVD of last night’s game would do them no harm at all. There was much to be gleaned from a game which benefited Hearts in both financial and footballing ways.
Hearts (4-4-1-1): Ridgers (Hamilton 85); McKay, McGowan, Wilson (Beith 46), Hamill; Smith (B King 55), A King (Nicholson 71), Tapping, Walker (Carrick 80); Robinson; Stevenson (Oliver 80).
Wolfsburg (4-2-3-1): Grun; Ochs, Lopes (Sprenger 60), Klose, Schafer; Seguin (Medojevic 68), Polak; Evseev, Dost (Eilers 60), Caligiuri; Kutschke. Subs: Drewes, Poggenberg, Naldo.
Referee: Brian Colvin.