Five games which defined Hearts' 2017/18 season
From Elgin to Kilmarnock via BT Murrayfield, Hearts had a difficult season on and off the park.The coach they started the Betfred Cup with was different to the one who led the team into the first league game of the season, who, in turn, was different to the coach at the end of the campaign.The patience of the Hearts support was tested with on-field performances and delays to the opening of the new Main Stand. But, come the final kick of the ball, the club and team are in a better place than when they started the season.Here are five games which defined the season ...
HEARTS 2, DUNFERMLINE ATHLETIC 2 (1-3 ON PENS): BETFRED CUP, JULY 29
When referee Craig Thomson blew his whistle for full-time at a main stand-less Tynecastle, it signalled the end for Ian Cathro. Hearts had just been knocked out of the Betfred Cup at the group stage – the only Premiership team to fall at that stage – unable to progress from a group consisting of Dunfermline, Peterhead, Elgin City and East Fife.
The BT Sport cameras panned on the Hearts boss, standing forlornly on the sidelines. He knew his time was up, he didn’t really know where to go next and turned towards the tunnel as many of the 8404 crowd headed towards the exits.
However, the suffering wasn’t over. The most pointless penalty shoot-out for a redundant bonus point had to be contested.
What followed was an embarrassment for the Gorgie side, epitomising the Cathro reign. Jordan McGhee, Malaury Martin and Don Cowie all sent penalties over the bar.
The game had started positively as Hearts looked to bounce back from a defeat to Peterhead during the week. Don Cowie zipped the home side ahead. But goals either side of half-time, not helped by ragged defending, saw the Pars take the lead.
Esmael Goncalves scrambled in a late equaliser to set up a frantic finish and the club’s campaign could have turned out differently had Cole Stockton steered in an injury-time chance.
It was not to be and, with the rain falling, the shell of the new main stand and irate fans in the background, Cathro’s time at Hearts was up – sacked on August 1 with only four days remaining until the start of the Ladbrokes Premiership season.
HEARTS 1, PARTICK THISTLE 1: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, NOVEMBER 19
Hearts had spent the first few months of the league season playing home games at BT Murrayfield – claiming one win, one draw and two defeats – before their move back to Tynecastle. Due to building complications and delays, the first game in front of the new main stand had been pushed back.
Right up until the eve of the match with the Jags, there were doubts over whether the club would get a safety certificate and then the say-so by City of Edinburgh Council safety officers for the game to go ahead.
Some frustration, mainly from the away support, followed when the game was delayed by 15 minutes. The game did eventually get underway in front of the new multi-million pound stand.
Hearts couldn’t quite deliver a performance or result to mark the occasion, giving up a late equaliser to Kris Doolan after Esmael Goncalves had put the home side ahead ten minutes into the second period.
HEARTS 4, CELTIC 0: LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP, DECEMBER 17
Hearts came into the fixture on their best run of form, unbeaten in five leagues games. However, their last win over Celtic had come in the 2012 Scottish Cup semi-final. In the subsequent 20 fixtures, the Hoops had won 18 times with an aggregate score of 60-7.
Celtic, who had been close to losing their long unbeaten domestic run at Motherwell and Hibs prior to their Tynecastle visit, were looking to reach the 70-game mark. Add injury problems to key first-team players and confidence wasn’t high among the Hearts support.
What was to follow was simply incredible.
Hearts played with an aggression, intensity and verve not seen since beating Rangers 4-1 under former boss Ian Cathro in February 2017.
Celtic were made to look distinctly average as Harry Cochrane, 16 at the time, fired in the first before Kyle Lafferty added a second. The Hearts support didn’t know what to do, split between delirium and disbelief.
Fatalism set in at half-time with everyone expecting a Celtic comeback. But wide man David Milinkovic added a third moments after the interval before the icing on the cake was applied when referee Willie Collum awarded Hearts a penalty and Milinkovic converted.
It was the performance of the season.
HEARTS 1, HIBS 0: SCOTTISH CUP, JANUARY 21
It was the third consecutive season in which the Edinburgh rivals had met each other in the Scottish Cup. In 2016 and 2017 the games went to a replay at Easter Road, Hibs deservedly winning on both occasions.
The 2016 meeting hurt the most, Hearts losing a two-goal lead at Tynecastle before a meek performance in the replay with Hibs going on to win the trophy. The replay the following year was an even worse performance.
Hearts hadn’t defeated Hibs since the first derby of the Championship season in 2014. This was a must-win game in the eyes of all Hearts fans. They had been fortunate to draw the previous meeting between the clubs when Oli Shaw saw an effort cross the line but not given as a goal in the 0-0 draw at Tynecastle in December.
Hearts boss Craig Levein threw new signings Steven Naismith and Demetri Mitchell into fray for their debuts. The former nearly started his Hearts career in the perfect fashion but the forward couldn’t steer his effort on target having rounded Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano.
It was a more absorbing contest than the aforementioned 0-0.
Left-back Mitchell saw a volley wonderfully saved by Marciano, while Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin denied Hibs winger Martin Boyle.
With the clock ticking down Don Cowie became the Hearts hero, nudging Christophe Berra’s header over the line. Just.
MOTHERWELL 2, HEARTS 1: SCOTTISH CUP, MARCH 4
Craig Levein’s men advanced comfortably past St Johnstone after the Hibs win to set up a quarter-final clash with Motherwell with fans dreaming of their first Hampden Park visit since defeat to St Mirren in the 2013 League Cup final.
Despite the match being televised and the central belt being hit by heavy snow, around 5000 Hearts fans travelled through to Lanarkshire.
Even an unusual team selection failed to dampen the mood of the support. The first-half performance, which Levein called “terrible”, did. The goal which gave Motherwell the lead summed up the first 45 minutes, Hearts midfielder Ross Callachan inexplicably leaving a low corner which was eventually bundled in.
Jon McLaughlin’s expression at what he had just witnessed was one which was shared by 5000 others.
With the introduction of David Milinkovic, Hearts got a foothold in the game, levelling through a Kyle Lafferty penalty. The Northern Irishman then saw a shot cannon off the base of the post as Hearts looked to win the tie.
But, as the game ventured towards a replay, Motherwell captain Carl McHugh volleyed in a spectacular winner, all but ending Hearts’ season.
Five days later, the Tynecastle side lost to Hibs at Easter Road, as the club’s problematic away record reared its head again.