Maroon memories: Levein rallies troops for Euro push

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Hearts edged closer to a return to Europe after this victory, Craig Levein ensuring Tynecastle had become a formidable ground for opposing teams.

After a surprising off-key first half for the home side they eventually found their rhythm in the second half to grab the three points.

The visitors had been, in fact, the last team outwith the Old Firm to leave the Capital with maximum points and that had been 20 months previously to this encounter.

The proud record, though, looked to be in jeopardy as the Dark Blues threatened to repeat that upset after Steven Milne capitalised on defensive errors to slot home the opening goal with just seven minutes on the clock.

The loss of the goal certainly rocked the home side and only good defending from Alan Maybury and Patrick Kisnorbo prevented the dangerous Milne from getting another shot on target just after the quarter-hour mark. The Jam Tarts’ best effort in a disappointing opening 45 minutes came from the head of Kevin McKenna – the Canadian was again used in attack in the enforced absence of Mark de Vries – when he sent an effort wide of goalkeeper Julian Speroni’s right-hand post from Robbie Neilson’s cross.

Jim Duffy’s injury-hit team looked more than capable of adding to their advantage in the first half, Steven Pressley coming to the Jambos’ rescue in the 39th minute with a goalline clearance after Steve Lovell had latched onto a Mark Fotheringham pass before rounding Craig Gordon at his near post.

It was clear the Jambos would have to lift their game after the break if they were to entertain hopes of consolidating their third place in the table and Levein’s half-time pep talk certainly had the desired effect with Hearts having stormed into lead within 13 minutes of the turnaround.

The hosts levelled the match after 52 minutes. Neilson’s long throw was headed into the path of Paul Hartley by McKenna and his rasping angled drive was net-bound all the way despite a desperate attempt by Dave Mackay to keep it out.

Six minutes later and the Jambos had snatched the initiative from the penalty spot.

Phil Stamp played in McKenna and the emergency striker was sent tumbling in the area by Fotheringham, Pressley stepping up to send Speroni the wrong way with a confident conversion. The writing was on the wall for the Dens Parkers at this stage and Duffy had Speroni to thank for keeping Dundee in the game with a superb save from Stamp with 64 minutes on the clock.

Two minutes later, though, and the game was finished as a contest with Joe Hamill netting his first league goal for the Gorgie outfit. Neilson’s throw was headed on by Douglas Cameron into the path of Dennis Wyness he rolled the ball back for Hamill to slide home No. 3 from eight yards out.

Wyness then had a shot on the turn well saved by Speroni as the game moved to its inevitable conclusion and, with nearest rivals Dunfermline having to settle for a draw at Livingston, Levein’s men boasted a commanding ten-point lead in the race for Europe with just nine games remaining.

Hearts finished a resounding 15 points ahead of nearest challengers Dunfermline securing European football for the following season where they went on to reach the new group stages of the Uefa Cup, playing Feyenoord, Schalke 06 and Basel.