ST MIRREN must thoroughly loathe the sight of Rudi Skacel. The talismanic Czech has now lashed eight goals past the Paisley club in four meetings after a hat-trick which was the catalyst in a rampant Hearts performance.
If he gets his way, he will be around to torment them and other Scottish teams for a while yet.
It is far from certain Skacel will remain at Tynecastle beyond the expiry of his contract this month. He is due for further talks with the Hearts hierarchy this week and is eager to stay. The club holds the option to extend his deal until June but directors are reluctant to re-sign the player on his existing terms. After three ferocious goals in Saturday’s 5-2 defeat of St Mirren, Skacel finds himself in the perfect bargaining position. He couldn’t have planned it better.
Vladimir Romanov and Sergejus Fedotovas might be inclined to rethink their strategy for negotiating with Skacel after viewing footage of this encounter. The hat-trick – bookended by goals from Marius Zaliukas and John Sutton – was the midfielder’s second against St Mirren after his treble in October 2010. He also scored two against them in March last year. Hearts supporters worship his every move and adore his goalscoring feats. By the time he left the field to a standing ovation in stoppage-time to be replaced by Suso, the “Rudi must stay” chant had already had its rendition.
It is little wonder Skacel wants to stay despite admitting Saturday might have been his last outing at Tynecastle. Hearts played for 78 minutes with ten men after Zaliukas was dismissed for denying Paul McGowan a clear goalscoring opportunity. Yet they totally overwhelmed St Mirren to move to third place in the SPL table. They are thriving with five wins and a draw in their last six games as the problems of recent weeks play second fiddle to their apparently indomitable on-field spirit.
“It’s a special treat for the supporters, I wanted to say thanks to them because they give me power to score goals,” said Skacel. “I tried my best and probably even the supporters feel this could be the last game. I thought about that before the game, that this could be my last game. If so, that was a special goodbye. I wanted to win and score. But I want to stay for another few months.
“I spoke with Sergey last week and we will speak in the next two weeks. It’s important both sides want to find some solution. I was injured during the close season so I only signed until January. I wanted a longer contract and we made a solution to see how I would feel. It was no problem for both sides. We are here now so maybe they will offer me a five-year deal.”
The last sentence was uttered in jest. Skacel is 32 and has seen more than most in his varied career. To his credit, he is more concerned for Hearts than himself and said recent wage delays were not significant to him. “I’m not worried about myself, the club is the most important thing. If they want to keep me we should speak and try to find a solution.
“I had bigger delays when I played in Europe. Every player has different problems and different wages so I couldn’t say too much. People have kids or mortgages. It was tough but for me it wasn’t a very big deal, I’ve had to wait more than four months before. In Europe it’s more normal. I hope it’s sorted soon because for everybody it’s not good coming to training thinking about this.”
Hearts players awaiting their salaries today can do so content that they have revitalised their season in recent weeks. “We needed three points because our target is the top three,” continued Skacel. “We are on a good run but I don’t want anything else to happen. The UK is something special because you are usually paid on time. Hopefully the money trouble is gone and behind us. Unfortunately life and football or business is about money and the club has to deal with this. The club has to survive for the supporters. I hope everything will be fine and we can fight for third place.
“Hopefully I can stay until the end of the season. We will talk next week. I am without an agent so I want to speak with Hearts first. I think after the next two weeks we will know. It’s a short transfer window but I’m happy here. All the supporters enjoyed the hat-trick and I hope it gives me a bigger chance to play in the first eleven.”
All Skacel’s goals were struck from outside the penalty area, with his first a potential contender for goal of the season. Indeed, Hearts’ clinical finishing was underlined by the fact they only had five shots at goal in the game and scored with every one.
Having headed the opener after just 51 seconds, Zaliukas conceded a penalty and was red carded 11 minutes later for impeding McGowan as he steadied himself to shoot inside the box. McGowan dispatched the resultant penalty high past Kello from 12 yards and Steven Thompson’s looping header six minutes later put St Mirren in control. Hearts, with Adrian Mrowiec deputising for Zaliukas in central defence, looked rather disjointed but were about to effect a remarkable recovery in what was a thoroughly engrossing game.
Skacel dispossessed Graham Carey to dispatch an unstoppable 25-yarder into Craig Samson’s top corner, restoring parity at 2-2. He struck again on 64 minutes and again on 68, both left-footed attempts angled outwith Samson’s reach into opposite corners of the St Mirren net. He was, in truth, unstoppable. In stoppage-time, Sutton drove the ball high under the crossbar from Black’s indirect free-kick to complete a rousing display.
“I just want to say how proud I am of my team,” said Paulo Sergio, the Hearts manager. “To play this way against, in my opinion, one of the better football teams in the league is excellent. After ten minutes we had to change strategy and throw away our entire week’s work in training and I am so proud of the team for how they reacted.
“We have to talk about Rudi’s goals, yes, but I want to talk about the team. It was the work of the team that allowed Rudi the chance to get three goals. Also, Rudi’s work defensively allowed him to stay in good condition to make the chances. He has fantastic capacity to score goals but I am more proud of his work off the ball, fighting together with his team, as they all stayed as a team and a unit. The players deserve all the credit.”
Sergio remains hopeful that Skacel can be retained. “I’ve seen nothing from Rudi that says he wants to go, and that he will be going. I read in the papers about things like Crawley [who Skacel has been linked with] and Rudi leaving, but I know he wants to stay. I am happy to keep him and have him here. I don’t get the idea where our players are on sale is from.”