Hearts 2, Dundee Utd 1. SPL. Saturday, December 23, 2012
Ryan Stevenson scored twice as Hearts climbed to sixth in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League with victory over Dundee United.
In a match where United’s Rudi Skacel was supposed to be the central protagonist on his return to Tynecastle, Stevenson put Hearts in front after 15 minutes and added a second from the penalty spot after 31 minutes.
Keith Watson pulled a goal back after 57 minutes but United could not find a second as Hearts climbed above their opponents with victory in their final home match of a tumultuous calendar year.
The most popular man on the pitch was, curiously, a visiting player as Skacel started for an unchanged United.
The Czech internationalist’s final appearance of his second spell at Hearts was the 5-1 William Hill Scottish Cup final defeat of Hibs on May 19 and he selected squad number 51 at United, while he was the subject of an ovation from the home faithful in the 51st minute.
It was the second time Skacel had faced Hearts this term since moving to United. He was withdrawn from the Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final penalty shootout by United boss Peter Houston.
A 60-day transfer embargo was imposed while Skacel was training with Hearts and was due to expire on Sunday, making it plausible that the forward might return for a third spell at the end of his short stint at United next month. Now he is more likely to stay at Tannadice after Hearts were handed an indefinite ban on registering new players by the Scottish Premier League over delayed payment of bonuses, a sanction which will be challenged.
Hearts made one change from the side which drew 2-2 at St Johnstone, Dylan McGowan coming in, wearing the number 19 jersey formerly occupied by Skacel.
From the first corner, Skacel tackled Stevenson and cleared, his opponent going to ground in search of a penalty, with appeals ignored.
Moments later Stevenson scored, benefiting from John Sutton occupying the attentions of two defenders and Brian McLean’s failure to clear a ball from deep.
The ball broke for Stevenson, who simply sidefooted in.
Jamie MacDonald made an instinctive save when Jon Daly met Barry Douglas’ free-kick from the left and McLean’s torrid afternoon continued as he could only hit the post with the follow up from two yards out. Dylan McGowan won a penalty when he was bundled over by Willo Flood trying to meet brother Ryan’s long throw.
Stevenson took the resulting spot-kick and sent Radoslaw Cierzniak the wrong way to score.
United were far from being outplayed, but try as they might they could not cut the interval deficit.
McLean headed over from a Flood cross as United resumed on the attack and Hearts were repelling an aerial bombardment when there was the bizarre spectacle of a Tynecastle chorus of “Rudi” complete with the ‘we-are-not-worthy’ bowing gesture.
Skacel acknowledged with a clap of his hands during a break in play before having a role as United replied.
A Douglas free-kick was only half-cleared, Skacel sliced a shot into the ground and Watson turned to fire into the top corner beyond MacDonald.
Hearts had a glorious opportunity to restore their two-goal lead, but Gordon Smith missed a simple tap-in after Ryan McGowan’s mis-hit shot found him six yards out.
Skacel was substituted for Milos Lacny 14 minutes from time and waved to the visiting support as his name again rang out around western Edinburgh.
Hearts had further opportunities, Cierzniak saving from Webster and substitute Callum Paterson, while United continued to be repelled by a resilient home defence.
In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Jonny Russell had a chance to equalise when the ball evaded Marius Zaliukas, but he could only fire over as Hearts finished victorious.
Hearts: MacDonald, R McGowan, Barr, Webster, Stevenson, Sutton, Driver (Novikovas 82), Smith (Paterson 75), D McGowan (Taouil 72), Zaliukas, McHattie. Unused subs: Enckelman, Robinson, Holt, Carrick.
Dundee United: Cierzniak, Douglas, McLean, Gunning, Flood, Russell, Rankin, Daly, Watson, Armstrong (Dow 85), Skacel (Lacny 77). Unused subs: Banks, Ryan, Millar, Gardyne, Petrie.
Referee: C Thomson.