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Hearts 3–0 Alloa Athletic: Just your bog-standard three goal cushion

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Hearts 3–0 Alloa Athletic: Just your bog-standard three goal cushion

Such was the painstaking lack of firepower in Hearts squads gone by that, in previous seasons, the majority of supporters would have bitten your hand off for even the drabbest 1–0 win. It seems ludicrous, therefore, to not count one’s blessings and be anything other than eternally grateful for a 3–0 victory.

And yet I found myself feeling a little unfulfilled after last night’s encounter with Championship strugglers Alloa. I have almost come to expect high-scoring victories every week, which may have something to do with the free-scoring nature of this season’s squad.

For the most part, the players have delivered and an overwhelming number of games have been won by comfortable margins (Jimmy Nicholl and his Cowdenbeath players know this better than anyone). However, over the course of the season, the players seem to have gotten so used to turning teams over that it’s become second nature to them and, as a result, they’ve developed a brand of drab domination.

Of course, last night may have had a lot to do with the circumstances. There is not a lot to play for now except professional pride and a few more points to make the overall tally look even more impressive. These games no longer have the same dramatic meaning that spurred the team towards the title.

Furthermore, when a team languishing at the bottom of the league visits the champions only a matter of days before said champions play their city rivals, it usually means a few of the fringe players are going to get a run-out. From this season’s supporting cast, Robbie Neilson gave starts to Jack Hamilton, Kenny Anderson, Soufian El Hassnaoui and Brad McKay (who now appears to have played his last game for the club if the standing ovation he received when substituted is to be read into). James Keatings was preferred in attack to Messrs Sow and Zeefuik, while the soon-to-be-departing Adam Eckersley replaced Kevin McHattie at left back.

Despite Hearts dominating possession, the first half was about as flat as the coffee morning atmosphere inside a deceptively full Tynecastle, with Alloa restricting their hosts to long range efforts that did little to trouble their keeper. When a Keatings shot from close range cannoned back off the post, it seemed inevitable that the teams would go into the half-time break goalless, until Callum Paterson’s deflected strike from outside the box found the far corner of the Alloa net. Although there was little chance of the visitors staging a comeback from even a solitary goal down, the outcome was put beyond doubt when, after four minutes of the second half, Danny Wilson headed a Keatings corner into the net to double the hosts’ advantage.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of last night’s game was the performance of El Hassnaoui, whose season has been frustratingly stop-start due to injury problems and the intense competition for places in attack; conditions that have restricted the Dutchman to only seven starts in his first season at Tynecastle. The more critical sections of our support cannot seem to go a season without a few scapegoats to chastise and it would seem that despite his limited exposure to first team action, El Hass has found himself rather unfairly dumped in this category. Regardless of that, he took advantage of the opportunity given to him last night: he was effective on the ball, rarely wasted possession and fully deserved his goal in the 69th minute.

The naysayers on Kickback, however, were quick to play down this performance because “it was only against Alloa”. Whether he can replicate that form in the bigger games next season remains to be seen but he certainly gave the fans a glimpse of the ability Craig Levein spoke so highly of when he arrived from Sparta Rotterdam. Unfortunately for El Hass, as well as the likes of Kenny Anderson who also put in an admirable shift, his performance last night is unlikely to secure him a starting berth against Hibs on Sunday with Sow and Zeefuik in contention.

The derby was always going to be the main focus of this week for us fans, although Neilson was unhappy with what he perceived to be a similar attitude from his players last night, which was reflected in their flat first half performance. On the face of it, a 3–0 win would appear to be ideal preparation for a trip to Easter Road. Unfortunately, a similarly drab start on Sunday is unlikely to produce the same result.

Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on April 9, 2015.

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