Hearts 3, Dunfermline 1: October 29, 1997
HEARTS narrowly missed out on dislodging Celtic from the top of the Premier Division by goal difference as they eased past Dunfermline.
Goals by the outstanding Neil McCann, Stephane Adam and Steve Fulton convinced manager Jim Jefferies that the title challenge would not be another all-Glasgow affair.
“A lot of people said our bubble had burst after the Celtic game but we proved them wrong,” he said. “The team were excellent and we played some great football. If we keep playing like this we can maintain our challenge at the top.” Hearts needed a three-goal winning margin to go to the summit and looked like they might achieve that until Andy Smith pulled a goal back for the visitors on 73 mintues.
Hearts started off much the better team and took a deserved lead after 13 minutes. McCann drifted in from the left-wing to exchange swift passes with Adam before slotting his fifth goal of the season past an exposed Ian Westwater.
But with the front players – notably a struggling Jim Hamilton – failing to hold up the ball to give enough time for the midfielders to join the attacks, Hearts went off the boil for much of the rest of the half before McCann, who looked close to a Scotland call-up, re-ignited the side after the break. The livewire winger’s exquisite turn of Andy Tod on the halfway line enabled him to run at the remains of the retreating rearguard and then fed the unmarked Adam for the Frenchman to score easily.
Dunfermline hit back immediately when Smith diverted a low cross which Greg Shields lashed in from the left flank. But as the visitors pressed for a late equaliser, McCann again gained control of the ball in the centre of the park to feed a suspiciously offside-looking Fulton for the clinching goal.
Jefferies was full of praise for his whole team, especially McCann, his centre-backs David Weir and Paul Ritchie, and the outstanding Stefano Salvatori and Colin Cameron in midfield. John Robertson, sitting on the bench awaiting his 500th appearance for the club was not brought on, despite the laboured exertions of Hamilton and the calls of the large crowd.
“Dunfermline’s strength is in the air at set pieces and you don’t want to take off a player like Jim Hamilton who is very, very good in the air if you are winning 2-1,” he said. “It’s common sense. If you take him off and put someone else on who is 5ft 5 and you lose a goal at a set piece then who is the mug?”
Hearts: Rousset, Locke, Weir, Ritchie, Pointon, Salvatori, Cameron, Fulton, McCann, Adam, Hamilton.