Hearts 2–1 Raith Rovers: Sub Sean stars in uninspiring sideshow
After an eventful week for the club and for Scottish football in general, a return to actual football against Raith Rovers was a welcome distraction for Hearts supporters. However, with a variety of other developments circulating the club and its wider domestic football landscape, this relatively underwhelming game will not rank highly on people’s topics for discussion. On that basis, and having been a bit lazy in the past week, I have left myself a lot of subject-matter to scrutinise in one piece.
First of all, congratulations must go to former Hearts employees Peter Houston, Jamie MacDonald and David Smith for their Hampden triumph over Hibs yesterday afternoon, a victory made all the sweeter by the bitter post-match comments of Alan Stubbs.
If these inane babblings are anything to go by, it merely serves to demonstrate that the Hibs manager’s role is the footballing equivalent of a vegetative mental state. After all, they don’t refer to themselves as “the cabbage” for nothing. Unfortunately for Stubbs, this semi-final collapse may not be the last disappointment he has to deal with before the season is out.
Speaking of disappointment, after a fortnight of sensitive feelings and short patience brought about by the club’s second and third defeats of the season (exacerbated by the fact that those were inflicted by two rival clubs) news about the potential departure of popular players is perhaps not the pick-me-up some Hearts supporters were looking for.
Although it has been common knowledge for a while that Adam Eckersley’s contract would not be renewed at the end of the season, another player who seems set to move on is club captain Danny Wilson, who has chosen to invoke a clause in his contract that will allow him to leave for free next month.
As is always the case with these stories, the rumours were causing a stir long before the club officially commented, with a lot of emotional supporters either reaching for the hankies and full fat ice cream or spouting vitriol about the player on social media.
A similar scenario unfolded earlier in the week when news emerged that James Keatings had been told he could find a new club if first team opportunities were more plentiful elsewhere. Supporters again took to their Twitter and Kickback accounts, this time to vent their frustration at Robbie Neilson’s player retention policy before the harder facts of the story were reported. Neilson later made it clear that Keatings was still wanted by the club but would not be guaranteed regular first team football, acknowledging the player’s ability to contribute in the Premiership while also respecting his ambition.
Keatings is clearly a very determined individual so it came as no great surprise when Neilson confirmed later in the week that he intends to stay and fight for his position, news that sparked a rousing ovation for the striker when he came off the bench yesterday. Given his performances as Hearts’ only recognised striker when the team suffered an injury-induced shortage up front during the winter months, there is every chance he will take advantage if he finds himself in similar circumstances next season.
While Keatings received a positive reception in light of his own career decisions, this morning’s news about Wilson is unlikely to inspire a similar reaction. The captain has been a surprisingly polarising figure with Hearts supporters and, although his critics will welcome the news of this self-engineered departure, there will be others (like myself) who will be disappointed to see him go.
The reaction to the Wilson news, however, has brought up the bigger, touchier subject of player loyalty, a myth only the most short-sighted of supporters still believe in nowadays. Debates about Wilson’s ability will rage on between supporters without ever reaching a unanimous verdict. However, if supporters insist on bringing his loyalty into the equation, they should remind themselves of the pay cut Wilson took to stay at the club during administration when far more secure (and lucrative) options would have been available to him. Pay cuts, after all, were the exact reason many supporters felt the loyalty of Locke and co had been so badly betrayed last summer.
Unfortunately, a title-winning club captain appears not to merit the same respect from some sections of our incredibly fickle support. Those fans will disagree, but Danny Wilson owes Heart of Midlothian nothing. If he sees a move elsewhere as the best way to further his career, he will leave with the best wishes of the more reasonable fans who can acknowledge his active contribution to the club’s revival.
Meanwhile, the disappointment felt by Adam Eckersley at his own imminent departure would have been intensified by the retrospective two-match ban he received earlier in the week for his savage “head-butt” on Scott Allan during the derby. Along with the recently sidelined Neil Alexander and Billy King, Eckersley was absent from yesterday’s match day squad, which presented another opportunity for some of the fringe players who had previously featured against Alloa. Among them was Scott Gallacher, who was given the starting gloves for the first time since signing from Rangers last summer.
The game itself was a fairly uninspiring affair, with only a string of predictably bizarre decisions by Tynecastle’s favourite inept referee Willie Collum giving the crowd anything to shout about in the opening stages. Eventually, however, Hearts broke the deadlock just after half an hour when clever hold-up play from Osman Sow released Sam Nicholson, who sent a left-footed shot beyond Kevin Cuthbert for his fifth goal of the season.
Having been criticised earlier in the season for his unspectacular performances, Soufian El Hassnaoui will have every reason to be pleased with his recent form. The Dutchman made it two goals in two appearances shortly before the hour mark, picking up Callum Paterson’s cut-back and drilling the ball low past Cuthbert at his near post.
With a comfortable-looking lead in place, the home supporters were introduced to academy graduate Sean McKirdy, who Neilson brought on for his home debut in place of Kenny Anderson. Although a rare Calum Elliot Tynecastle goal halved the deficit for the visitors, the rest of the game petered out into nothingness, with McKirdy’s half-hour cameo the only noteworthy event. For someone who only recently turned 17, McKirdy looked unfazed during his first league outing and cut a composed figure alongside Morgaro Gomis in the centre of the park.
Of course, if the treatment of some our other recent youth team products is anything to go by, McKirdy’s age and inexperience will be of little relevance to the boo boys if he fails to pull up trees immediately. Welcome to the fickle world of first team football at Hearts, Sean — make sure your skin is as thick as possible!
Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on April 19, 2015.