Wizardry of Oz still lives long in memory

Alim Ozturk celebrates after his 40-yard thunderbolt at Easter Road
Alim Ozturk celebrates after his 40-yard thunderbolt at Easter Road
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Almost six months on, Alim Ozturk returns, for the first time, to the scene of his finest individual moment as a footballer tomorrow.

When Hearts rock up at Easter Road, the big Turk will be inspired by memories of the day he wrote himself into Edinburgh derby folklore with one of the greatest goals ever scored in the fixture.

The defender can’t help but smile when asked to recall that late October afternoon when his 40-yard, stoppage-time wonder strike looped over shellshocked Hibs goalkeeper Mark Oxley as ten-man Hearts salvaged an unlikely 1-1 draw to maintain an unbeaten start to their Championship campaign.

It was a moment that ensured he will always have a special place in the hearts of the Tynecastle faithful. “That was a career high for me,” said Ozturk. “The game was hard because they played well and then after about 80 minutes Callum Paterson got a red card as well. You are 1-0 down and down to ten men and you’re thinking if we can get one chance to score, a draw would be fantastic, so to score a goal like that was a dream. I still watch it. Of course I do!

“Even now, fans still talk to me about it. On Facebook, they are always talking about it. I still get messages from fans telling me about how many times they’ve watched it. I have had a lot of messages. My Facebook was crashing as I had so many requests after that goal. It was crazy.”

Asked how he celebrated after the goal that made him an internet sensation, Ozturk pauses for a moment, then smiles again. “I remember I went out in town and I was very popular with the Hearts fans – not so much the Hibs fans,” he said. “Some of it was friendly and some not so much but that’s ok.

“My family watched the game on television back home and saw the goal. They were really proud of me because they knew how important scoring in the derby was for me and the club. That goal gave me confidence. I have scored three goals since then and that is one of the reasons because it gave me the confidence to do it.”

The sight of almost 4000 Hearts supporters dancing jubilantly in Easter Road’s Dunbar End after his wonder strike, allied to the manic online response to it, underlined to Ozturk just how much the derby means to the football people of Edinburgh. “It was a great goal but I didn’t know the fans would love it so much,” he said. “The reaction to it has been unbelievable. It helped me realise how big the rivalry is between the two teams. If I scored the same goal against Falkirk or anybody else, I don’t think the fans would have loved it so much. I have played in three of these games now and scored a goal so I know this is very much the most important game for Hearts.”

The importance of Ozturk’s goal wasn’t lost on him. It ensured Hearts made it ten league games unbeaten at the start of the season and breathed fresh impetus into a campaign which was to end in glory. They won their next seven Championship matches and would remain unbeaten until January, by which point they were already well and truly in command of the title race. “It summed up our attitude throughout the season that we didn’t lose that game,” he said. “If we’d lost it would have given Hibs confidence but we ended the game feeling like we’d won three points.”

Even though the title was wrapped up three weeks ago and Hibs are battling to finish ahead of Rangers in the fight for second place, Ozturk is adamant that his side won’t be any less motivated than their hosts. “We want to win every game between now and the end of the season and the fact it is the derby makes it extra special,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter that we have won the league - this is a derby and we want to win it to show everybody why we are champions.”

Ozturk has enjoyed his experience of the Edinburgh derbies so far, but he admits he couldn’t care less whether or not Hibs follow his team up to the Premiership next season. “Derbies are always nice games to play in but it doesn’t matter to me who comes up, Hibs, Rangers, maybe nobody. But it’s nice to play in a derby, it’s a good feeling.”

Will he be trying to illuminate the final derby of the season with another Ozturk special? “I will try it and see what happens,” he smiled.