Hearts in Spain: A strange setting, Craig Halkett being told to 'shut the **** up' and the mass brawl which ended the match
Scottish football often feels like a series of bizarre moments with the occasional breaking out of competitive sport and Hearts added to the pantheon with one of the most incredible endings to a friendly match there’s ever been.
The Estadio Jose Burgos was a strange venue for the club’s second winter exhibition game on the Costa del Sol and it ultimately bore witness to a contest which ended after just 38 minutes following a mass brawl between both sets of players, substitutes and coaches.
Deep into the woods outside Malaga – even the taxi driver looked nervous en route – the stadium could be likened to a Spanish version of Saughton Enclosure.
Still, regardless of setting, Hearts and Almeria were there to do a job: play out a genial fixture aimed at improving fitness levels and match sharpness. But Almeria had other ideas.
Early in the proceedings the Hearts players were already complaining to the local official about some of the challenges put in by the La Liga side. Craig Halkett, within the first five minutes, was told to “shut the f*** up” for his protests, while he was shushed by the near-side linesman for another gripe a short time later.
Almeria, unsurprisingly for a top-tier Spanish outfit, were a good team who did appear to be a level above their opponents and had the majority of chances throughout the game’s short runtime. They even missed a penalty after Orestis Kiomourtzoglou was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. Ross Stewart made an excellent stop to repel Dyego Sousa’s effort. However, the striker converted a short-time later from Largie Ramazani’s cutback.
"To be fair, they're a very good team,” said head coach Robbie Neilson. “I thought there were periods where we defended well and broke well. We're still lacking that wee bit of sharpness to get the goals. We could've stayed at home and played a Lowland League team and everyone thinks everything is rosy. With these games we can really challenge ourselves.”
Hearts were getting increasingly frustrated with the actions of Almeria and dished out a bit of retribution. The battle between Cochrane and Alejandro Pozo was becoming especially tense. The Hearts full-back vexed his opponent further when, after a foul by the touchline, Cochrane ignored Pozo’s requests to pass the stray ball back to him.
Things spilled over in the 38th minute when Pozo jumped into Cochrane contesting a high ball, angering the defender who hit back by leaving a bit on Pozo in the next challenge, which infuriated the Spaniard. He shoved Cochrane, but not as much as Rodrigo Ely, who came charging over and flattened his opponent. It all kicked off. Youngster Arron Darge was one of the first into the mix, throwing his hands at Ely and enquiring as to “what the f***” the Brazilian was doing. Samú Costa became a fuelling contributor, while several players left the subs bench to get involved, including Andy Halliday sprinting over from the other side.
Footage of the incident doesn’t do it justice. There were pockets of disturbances all across the field. Once the dust was settled, Cochrane and Ely were each shown a red card but, fearing further retaliation, Neilson decided it was time to take his players off the field. The match was over.