Maroon Memories: Keeper clanger ensures vital league points

Goalscorers Scott Severin, Thomas Flogel and Juanjo celebrate
Goalscorers Scott Severin, Thomas Flogel and Juanjo celebrate
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Hearts secured all three points with a late rally at home to Kilmarnock as they boosted their hopes of qualifying for Europe.

It seemed certain the match, between the rivals for fourth spot in the SPL, was set for a stalemate, but Craig Levein’s men were given some assistance from above.

The Tynecastle side won this encounter with two moments of divine fortune, a deflected goal by Thomas Flogel and the ordering-off of the Kilmarnock goalkeeper, Gordon Marshall, egging them on to complete a 3-0 victory when it seemed like goals had become a gratuitous threat to both sides’ defensive duties.

The result, settled by Juanjo’s cute free-kick after Marshall was shown red for handling outside the area, pulled Hearts within three points of their Ayrshire opponents and a possible UEFA Cup place.

In the end, Hearts won with a spectacular degree of aplomb, and Kilmarnock were fortunate not to be embarrassed by an even more damning scoreline.

However, the opening period told a completely different story. Only twice was a ball struck in the direction of goal in a horrendous first half, and both incidents came from Kilmarnock, Garry Hay being denied by a Steven Pressley block and goalkeeper Antti Niemi saving well from Paul Wright.

Hearts’ necessary tactical rearrangements caused Flogel to be flung into attack alongside young forward Andy Kirk, and the Austrian’s performance grew in stature throughout the night. His glanced header on the half-time whistle finally caused Marshall to dirty his strip, but it drifted narrowly wide.

Juanjo, who had dribbled as prettily as ever in the first half, followed up with an example of his shooting ability, but his stinging effort was directed straight at the visiting keeper.

As the clock ticked depressingly on, a sudden desperation to grasp the game by the scruff of the neck saw Flogel picking up a loose ball at the edge of the box and striking it, via an opponent’s leg, into the bottom corner.

But then Marshall’s night capitulated completely. When substitute Gary McSwegan was put through by an excellent Neil McCann pass, Marshall came to meet him and the striker attempted to poke the ball around his grounded body. The ball seemed to thud into the chest area of the former Celtic keeper, and as he stood up it rolled up and down his back. At some point, though, it must have brushed his arm.

As Tynecastle erupted in fury at the decision of referee George Mitchell to wave play on, the assistant referee was spotted waving his flag, and the outcome of their consultation was predictable. Marshall, an understandably forlorn figure, had to walk.

Being down to ten men did not cause Hearts’ second goal, but the necessary substitution did not help. Colin Meldrum never looked like reaching Juanjo’s exquisitely curved free-kick. Hearts had time for another, as Severin acrobatically converted Juanjo’s cross with his back to goal.

Hearts: Niemi, Neilson, McCann, Murray, Pressley, Severin, Juanjo, Tomaschek, McAnespie, Flogel, Kirk.