IT may be the beautiful game but, occasionally, it has to be played in an ugly manner to achieve an end result. In comparison to their opponents in this match, Hearts were positively stunning yet, at the same time, managed to come out on top without really being too pleasant on the eye.
Paulo Sergio wants his team to play pretty football, hence the reason his frustration was clearly evident on the touchline now and again as a player wearing maroon misplaced a pass or took the wrong option when an easier one was available.
But, first and foremost, he wants his team to win, which is why he bore the look of a contended man after Hearts chalked up a double first for the season at East End Park – a first away win of the campaign and back-to-back victories for the first time, too.
Andy Webster’s header just before the interval broke the deadlock before Rudi Skacel sealed the victory in the second-half, with Dunfermline rarely threatening Marian Kello’s goal apart from a ten-minute flurry just before the second of those goals.
“We won 2-0 but it wasn’t easy. We could only breathe easier after the second goal and we had to work hard to win,” said the Hearts manager, who acknowledged the fact his team had sacrificed style at times in order to get the job done.
“Sometimes in the game we had to play an ugly way to be responsible,” he added. “I want us to see us passing the ball and creating good moves but sometimes you can’t do that.
“You shouldn’t give the other team the ball so that they can press you, so there has to be a good balance between short balls and long balls.
“In that respect, I think we did well. We were focused on winning the game. I think there is still a lot of space to improve and use the ball better, but I am happy to get our first win away.”
Dunfermline manager Jim McIntyre said he believed there had been “little between the two teams” and he was probably right in terms of effort. What made the difference in the end was that Hearts had a couple of players who were able to create sparks that led to both goals being scored at important times in the game.
The ball spent most of the first-half up in the air but, on the occasions it was on the ground, no-one looked more likely to do something useful with it than David Templeton, who had one left-foot shot deflected just wide and also sent over two or three teasing deliveries that caused alarm in the Dunfermline defence.
While Templeton was lively in the opening-half, Skacel had been largely anonymous until he lit up the proceedings with one flash of his swanky white boots. The ball dropped to the Czech Republic man in a central position just outside the box and he pinged in a low left-foot drive. It looked as though it was just going to sneak in until Pars goalkeeper Paul Gallagher touched it past his left-hand post, but Skacel’s moment would come later and, in any case, the resultant corner saw Hearts go in front.
Danny Grainger’s cross took a deflection at the near post, the ball spinning up to a perfect height for Webster, who nodded home from around the edge of the six-yard box as the Dunfermline goalkeeper was left helpless on this occasion.
As Templeton continued to tease and torment in the second-half, one of his inviting crosses found Ryan Stevenson, who did well to get to the ball ahead of his marker but saw his header saved by Gallacher. Used once again as a lone striker, Stevenson put in one heck of a shift, incidentally, before he was replaced late on by John Sutton.
Defensively, Hearts were pretty solid throughout.
As Dunfermline huffed and puffed in a bid to haul themselves back into the game, Hearts goalkeeper Kello tipped a speculative cross from Paddy Boyle over his crossbar before the goalkeeper had to act smart to cut out a cross from David Graham after he’d advanced to a threatening position near the byline.
Fed by Skacel, Templeton tried to place a right-foot shot into the net yet only succeeded in blazing it wide of the target but, seconds later, it was the winger who helped create that all-important second goal with 15 minutes to go.
He played a neat one-two with Stevenson to burst into the box and, though his shot was saved by Gallagher, the ball broke kindly to Skacel and there was no danger of him missing from the edge of the six-yard box. What followed was a truly joyous scene as every single Hearts fan in the packed visiting end rose to their feat and acclaimed Skacel, who certainly knows how to milk such occasions.
“He has that capacity,” observed Sergio when asked about Skacel’s two important contributions in the game. “He has a very good left foot and made some good shots. He’s better than he was a month ago.”
All in all, it was a good day’s work by Hearts and, while the manager said he will be striving for better overall performances, his priority is to try and maintain a winning run.
“Victories give confidence to players,” he acknowledged. “It would be good if we could win by playing very good football. But, first of all, you have to win.
“We didn’t show in the other away games the desire to win that we did today. That’s the difference. We defended very well and waited on the moment to kill the game.”