You see, it is entirely possible for one Edinburgh team to revel in the prosperity of the other. After Hibs’ proficiency at Ibrox on Saturday [they won 3-0 with goals from Garry O’Connor, Ivan Sproule and Chris Killen], there was an aura of heightened hope around Tynecastle of an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final.
From the excitement amongst the home support, it was not difficult to deduce that a May date with their greatest rivals at Hampden Park would be extensively welcomed in Gorgie [however, they eventually met in the last four, Hearts winning 4-0 on their way to lifting the trophy].
Aberdeen had not travelled south entertaining such notions, of course; that they were ousted from the cup so convincingly says much for the power of this Hearts side.
A team which had been reinforced to the tune of eight new recruits since it last took to a football field, the 4-1 dismantling of Hibs last week preceding Vladimir Romanov’s indulgence on transfer deadline day.
Graham Rix had spent the latter part of the week emphasising the positives of having a first-team squad totalling 35 players, but even he must have lost a few hours sleep on Friday night attempting to fit them all into 11 maroon shirts.
Come the morning, two of his decisions had been made for him when the influential left-sided pair of Takis Fyssas and Rudi Skacel arrived at Tynecastle complaining of flu-like symptoms. The ever-cautious Rix opted to send them instantly packing before any virus could spread around the protracted Hearts squad.
“They both looked a bit rough so I decided to send them away. They wanted to play but I didn’t want to take any risks with the other players because we have a lot of big games coming up.”
Shifting their jackets instantly on to the dressing-room pegs of Fyssas and Skacel were Jose Goncalves and Mirsad Beslija, desperate for a debut and keen to impress. Both achieved their aim, although it has to be said it was Portuguese defender Goncalves who left the greatest indent in the mind rather than the record- signing Bosnian.
Like the previous Saturday, Hearts appeared slightly overwhelmed by their visitors’ audacity in attacking during the early period and could easily have fallen a goal behind as they toiled to make any forward progress of their own.
However, again like the Hibs match, there was a release of pressure from the home side upon the first goal.
Calum Elliot fired in a waist-high cross from the byline on Hearts’ right for Michal Pospisil to volley into the roof of the net, allowing Hearts to invade the Aberdeen half on a regular basis from that moment.
They moved 2-0 ahead when Deividas Cesnauskis’ persistence down the left took him past Chris Clark towards the byeline before a cutback for Elliot’s impish flick past Jamie Langfield with the outside of his right boot. But by then Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood had already sensed that events were conspiring against his players.
Referee Kenny Clark ignored a clear 25th-minute tug by Andy Webster on Stevie Crawford on the Hearts six-yard line, and his inaccurate decision just prior to the interval in awarding Hearts a spot-kick for Zander Diamond’s clip of Pospisil’s heel, an incident which took place outside the penalty box, allowed Steven Pressley to slot home the third.
Diamond was rightly ordered off for the foul as he had denied the Czech a clear goalscoring opportunity, but the injustice in both penalty decisions saw Aberdeen, and Russell Anderson especially, berate the referee as the half-time whistle went.
The second half was always going to be something of an anti-climax after the controversial conclusion of the first. Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield seemed to become even more nervous during the second period as he sliced clearances from foot and delayed hitting them until they were ricocheting off an on-running Hearts attacker.
In truth, if Calderwood is to develop Aberdeen into an unyielding force in the SPL he will require a much more assured goalkeeper than Langfield, who cannot be considered worthy of a shirt worn with such distinction in past years by men like Jim Leighton and Theo Snelders.
The Hearts support were delighting in Langfield’s panic-strewn performance, although seeing Beslija leave the arena on a stretcher did nothing for their joviality. In an innocuous 50-50 tackle on 79 minutes, the £800,000 winger momentarily had his left knee pinned to the turf by the studs of Aberdeen substitute Jon Stewart, causing his eventual withdrawal.
Meanwhile, another new recruit had been busy attempting to register his intentions during the second half, the £500,000 Finnish striker Juho Makela having replaced Elliot before upsetting the already harassed Aberdeen defence with his power and work-rate. And just to show that Hearts are as keen on defensive perfection as they are attacking proficiency, Craig Gordon made a double save from Barry Nicholson and Crawford headers, the first of which looked a certain goal. Goncalves then executed the tackle of the day in the dying minutes, sliding in on the six-yard line to concede a corner and deny Stewart as the forward homed in on Gordon. His on-looking coach was suitably impressed. “I thought Goncalves was spot on,” said Rix. “He said to me before the game, ‘I’ve got a long throw-in’. I’ll tell you, he wasn’t joking. With Robbie Neilson on the right it’s like managing the Wimbledon of old.”
The pinnacle for that side was their appearance in the 1988 FA Cup Final when they defeated Liverpoo. Rix will be praying his post-match analogy can act as an omen.
Hearts: Gordon, Neilson, Goncalves, Pressley (c), Brellier, Webster, Beslija, Johnson, Pospisil, Elliot, Cesnauskis. Subs: McAllister, Wallace, Makela, Banks, Berra.
Aberdeen: Langfield, Clark, McNaughton, Anderson, Severin, Diamond, Nicholson, Griffin, Crawford, Smith, Foster. Subs: McAulay, Snoyl, Stewart, Esson, Mackie.
Referee: Kenny Clark.