HEARTS’ hopes of qualifying for the last 32 of the UEFA Cup were given a massive boost when Robbie Neilson snatched an improbable victory a minute from time.
A first-half goal from Dennis Wyness had put Hearts on course to emulate the previous year’s dramatic triumph in Bordeaux but, after Cesar Carignano’s equaliser, John Robertson’s side looked like they were only holding on for the draw.
Then, on a rare incursion up-field, substitute Phil Stamp headed down a cross from Joe Hamill, and Neilson’s low shot found the corner of the net.
The result was a complete vindication of Robertson’s decision to go for broke, although the job was still only half done. Hearts were to sit out the next round of games, then play Ferencvaros at Murrayfield on December 16. Victory there would have taken them through (in the end Hearts lost 1-0).
With Paul Hartley and Patrick Kisnorbo suspended for the Basel match, changes from the side which lost to Schalke were inevitable. The specific ones for which Robertson opted, however, were very bold. The coach had said he would field an attacking line-up, and he did that, all right, with Mark de Vries, Ramon Pereira and Wyness all starting. In the middle of the park, Robertson gave Michael Stewart a massive vote of confidence, selecting the on-loan Scotland internationalist for just his third start of the season.
The Swiss champions, while not sitting back too much, were able to play patiently. Having prised a valuable away point from Schalke in their only previous Group A match, they had the comfort of being more secure than opponents who had played two and lost two.
They were also at ease playing the counter-attacking game, and should have taken the lead with one rapid break after quarter of an hour. A fierce volley by Matias Delgado was parried by Craig Gordon straight into the path of Julio Rossi, but, perhaps caught slightly unawares, the latter could do no more than direct a feeble header straight back into the hands of the Hearts goalkeeper. Undaunted, the Jambos stuck to their guns, and found cause for optimism in the odd chink they discovered in the home defence.
On the 31st minute, Hearts got the breakthrough. Pereira and Hamill did well to maintain possession on the edge of the box, and the latter found Wyness in a yard or so of space. Wyness’ well-directed shot beat the keeper with Pereira, who was in a clear offside position, seeming to make sure from around six yards out. However, it was judged that the Spaniard had made no contact and the goal stood.
Basel were knocked off their stride for a while, and Hearts had another decent chance when De Vries failed by a foot or so to get to an Andy Webster knockdown. Given the number of openings Basel had had in the first half, an equaliser seemed probable, and it would have come after ten minutes of the second period, but for a point-blank save by Gordon from Chipperfield’s diving header. It was virtually one-way traffic by this time, and Basel at last got the goal their pressure deserved when Delgado seized on a poor clearance by Gordon and put Carignano through. This time the sub made no mistake.
Hearts looked out of it, but then came Neilson’s dramatic equaliser.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Pressley, Webster, Maybury, McAllister, Stewart, Hamill, Wyness, De Vries, Pereira.