HEARTS began the new millennium with a much needed victory having closed the last century with three consecutive defeats, the win against Dundee only their second victory in seven games on their own patch.
To Hearts’ credit and Dundee’s dishonour, a home victory looked a banker from as early as the 17th minute when Gary Wales netted his first goal for the Edinburgh club he had joined from Hamilton in July. The 21-year-old was way down the pecking order at Tynecastle but was given a rare start as a result of the injury absences of Stephane Adam, Gary McSwegan and Thomas Flogel.
Their non-appearances, and Jim Jefferies’ decision to allow £400,000 Slovakian signing Robert Tomaschek to watch his new club from the technical area, made for an unusual occurrence. All but one of Hearts’ ten outfield players were Scottish – Gordan Petric the odd man out – and the make-up of the team manifested itself in the methods employed to engineer the triumph.
Hearts were dogged, with application and enthusiasm in greater abundance than any other qualities.
Jefferies would have enthused over the contribution of midfielder Scott Severin. It was his sclaffed shot from a curling ball launched into the box by Gary Locke that precipitated Wales’ first goal celebration in maroon. In truth he was no more than a lucky lurker, the ball hitting him rather than the other way around.
Grave misfortune befell Dundee goalkeeper Rab Douglas in the 50th minute to end any hopes Dundee might have harboured of salvaging something from a decidedly unadventurous display against a side they had beaten in five of their previous six meetings. Douglas may have been the primary guilty party, but Barry Smith was also culpable in a calamitous few seconds that gifted Darren Jackson the clincher. Smith hit a pass-back with the kind of soft touch that suggested he could feel Douglas’s breath, and in a bid to compensate for this under-hit effort, the Dundee goalkeeper attempted to control the ball and loft it over the head of Jackson. He achieved the first aim but failed horrendously with his second, the ball dropping on to the Hearts striker’s head. A snap of the neck muscles and it was billowing the rigging.
Such was the vigorous head-shaking that ensued from Dundee manager Jocky Scot he perhaps dislodged a few brain cells, for afterwards Scott railed against the men in black for denying his team a penalty when it was 1-0, instead of recognising the failings of his own charges. They certainly were not helped when striker James Grady was forced to leave the field in a dazed and confused state after 37 minutes, having been on the receiving end of an elbow from Locke. The contact look accidental but Scott read it otherwise.
Surely, however, he should have reserved his growling for Dundee players whose negligence meant a Shaun McSkimming shot off the bar midway through the first half was their only moment of serious intent.
If Hearts were guilty on any count it was profligacy, with Wales spurning several opportunities, while Severin was denied by marvellous reaction saves from Douglas on another two occasions.