Just when we thought Hearts were done setting new heights of expertise, they confound everyone.
A record league victory by the joint highest goalscorers in British football is a firm statement of intent. There are no plans to coast through until the Scottish Championship is secured. Hearts want to obliterate teams their way to the title.
Events transpired in their favour at Tynecastle on Saturday but the appetite was relentless. Five-nil ahead at half-time against ten men, the temptation to relax was ignored as another five goals were lashed beyond helpless Cowdenbeath after the interval. By full-time, the biggest league win in the Edinburgh club’s history was confirmed.
Genero Zeefuik’s hat-trick, two of which were penalties, set the tone for the day. He opened the scoring on 25 minutes and had trebled his tally just three minutes and 35 seconds later. Other goals from Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker, Morgaro Gomis, Alim Ozturk, Danny Wilson and a double by substitute Osman Sow completed a horrific afternoon for Cowdenbeath. As manager Jimmy Nicholl stood drenched in the rain at the edge of his technical area, taking in every agonising second of his team’s destruction, it was hard not to feel sympathy.
However, Hearts refused to give an inch. Much as they have done throughout this league campaign. Lewis Toshney’s red card made an already difficult task impossible for the Fife club. He was dismissed for denying Nicholson a clear goalscoring opportunity, which brought the penalty for Zeefuik to complete his hat-trick. Thereafter, Hearts exploited their extra-man advantage and finished with a record win. Only the Welsh club TNS have scored the same number of league goals in Britain this season.
For most players on the pitch, the last time they were involved in such an overwhelming scoreline was in their childhood.
We spoke at half-time, 5-0 up, just about going and doing it againRobie Neilson
“It must’ve been when I was about 12 years old or something,” said Sow, who came off the bench to score twice. “We believe in ourselves and we keep on going. Winning a league is something special. Some people don’t do that in their whole career so it would be fantastic. That’s the reason I came to Hearts.” As is the case for many of his team-mates.
The collective motivation to win promotion back to the Premiership is driving Hearts on to new heights as the title looms on the horizon. Win the next five games and they are champions. Play with the ruthlessness they showed on Saturday and they should have little problem. “Three goals in a few minutes changes the game,” admitted head coach Robbie Neilson of Zeefuik’s rapid hat-trick. “They got a man sent off and it’s really difficult for them from there. We had a really good day. We spoke at half-time, 5-0 up, just about going and doing it again. A lot of time the foot comes off the gas but we were lucky to bring on Sow, El Hassnaoui and Keatings in the second half.”
Asked about setting a new record league win, he said: “It’s there to be beaten by someone else now. It’s great for our goals tally. I feel for Jimmy. I’ve been in situations like that. We were 3-0 down against Celtic here and down to ten men and there’s nothing you can do.
“We have to look after ourselves, though. We’re desperate to win the league and the performance showed that. We had guys desperate to score goals and do well. I haven’t been involved in a match with as many goals. It was a great performance but if we don’t score 11 against Dumbarton next week, people will be saying we’re off it again. If we beat Dumbarton 1-0, I’ll be just as happy. We just want to win games.”
One of the most noteworthy things about the goals was that six of them were scored from outside the penalty area. Zeefuik’s first was a penalty given when Kenny Adamson handled Nicholson’s shot, and the Dutchman calmly converted. Zeefuik collected Walker’s pass and turned sharply to score the second from 20 yards, then completed his hat-trick from the spot following Toshney’s foul on Nicholson.
The young winger, Nicholson, planted a raking drive into the roof of the net for the fourth before teeing up Walker for the fifth from distance. At half-time, few could have complained had Cowdenbeath walked straight up the tunnel, out the front door and onto their team bus.
“It’s hard enough to come here but to be 5-0 down at half-time and down to ten men is not nice,” said Nicholl. “The only thing you hope for is to stay 5-0. To finish the way it did, well... I thought the goals were easy. You want to make it harder and make it a wee bit less embarrassing but it didn’t happen.”
Twelve minutes after the restart it was 6-0. Gomis won a penalty and nonchalantly produced a Panenka – a chip over the diving goalkeeper – for his first Hearts goal. Ozturk stepped forward for another 25-yard screamer to make it 7-0, Wilson prodded the eighth from close range after a corner, and Sow struck two fine finishes after coming off the bench.
“There were penalties and free-kicks and our lads are saying some of them shouldn’t have happened, but it doesn’t matter. Hearts were still scoring too easily,” continued Nicholl. “What are we supposed to do? We’re supposed to stick together and get the players up and sorted out for Rangers next week.
“When you concede as many goals as we do, you just keep chopping and changing the team to make sure we’ve got the right people on the park. I’ve got to keep believing there’s enough in that dressing-room to get us out of this situation [second bottom of the league]. I’m disappointed for everyone at this club because it is embarrassing to lose by those figures.”
Asked if he had ever experienced anything like that before, Nicholl responded: “Yep, across the road at Hibs. Malmo. Four-nil down at half-time with wee Pat [Fenlon]. Horrific. All you’re asking is for them to turn it round to 4-1, 4-2 or 4-3. Show a wee bit of character in the second half. That didn’t happen, did it? So we ended up getting beat 7-0.
“As a player I lost 8-0 with Sunderland at Watford. It was the same thing. Really difficult. It’s about how you react.”