THE Hearts bandwagon rolled in and out of Dundee triumphantly, the ever growing number of believers in Vladimir Romanov’s revolution savouring the moment as George Burley’s team placed clear water between themselves and the Old Firm at the top of the SPL as they made it three wins out of three.
It was party time for the 5,300-strong visiting support at Tannadice as a group of players who had gelled far quicker than anyone, Burley included, could have anticipated, maintained their perfect and free-scoring start to the championship campaign with a clinical and at times classy defeat of Dundee United. The Hearts players appeared hugely comfortable riding the wave of euphoria which had been stirred by the previous Sunday’s derby dismantling of Hibs when they knocked four past their Edinburgh neighbours without reply. They swept into a 2-0 lead over a stunned United in the opening 12 minutes with goals from Steven Pressley and Roman Bednar. The admirable efforts of the home team to recover were successfully resisted by a defence in which Greek international left-back Takis Fyssas made a composed debut and the destination of the points was certain long before Rudi Skacel’s stoppage-time strike for the SPL leaders.
In a first half of gratifying quality, both sides had already come close before Hearts made their sixth-minute breakthrough. A well-struck Barry Robson effort was beaten away by Craig Gordon, before the visitors immediately swarmed to the other end where Skacel’s shot prompted an equally smart save from Derek Stillie. The United goalkeeper, however, was comprehensively beaten by Pressley’s well taken opener.
Grant Brebner’s reckless challenge on Saulius Mikoliunas gave Hearts a free-kick on the right which Skacel curled in beyond the defending United players into the path of Pressley, the captain’s firm header planting the ball firmly beyond Stillie’s right hand into the corner of the net.
Jim McIntyre squandered the opportunity to quickly restore parity for United, sending a free header wide from a Robson corner, and the sense this would be an afternoon when things would continue to fall in Hearts’ favour was reinforced when they doubled their lead in the 12th minute. United fluffed two chances to clear the ball effectively from a Hearts corner on the right, and when a cutback from Mikoliunas dropped to Julien Brellier on the edge of the penalty area, the Frenchman lobbed a perceptive pass over the top of the advancing home players.
It picked out Bednar’s run perfectly, the burly Czech striker displaying impressive touch and composure as he steadied himself before drilling a left-foot shot beyond Stillie from around ten yards.
It was to United’s credit that they were able to recover their poise, with a justifiable feeling that the scoreline was a harsh reflection on their efforts.
They actually managed to fashion more clear-cut opportunities than Hearts in the first half but were betrayed by wasteful finishing as David McCracken, Mark Kerr and then McIntyre once more all failed to trouble Gordon from excellent positions.
When the Hearts keeper was tested, he was not found wanting, and as he stretched out his right hand to claw Robson’s header behind for a corner at the start of the second half, even the most optimistic United supporters must have accepted the game was all but up for their side.
The final flourish to another glorious Sunday afternoon for the Hearts supporters came in the first minute of stoppage time when Bednar cut the ball back into the path of compatriot Skacel from the left edge of the United penalty-area for the midfielder to lash in his third goal in as many games via the underside of the crossbar.