Heart of Midlothian 4 Dunfermline Athletic 0Author: Alistair Campbell Date: Saturday, 17th Dec 2011
Any hopes the Pars had of climbing off the bottom of the lead were as good as over in 3 minutes when they gift-wrapped a goal for Elliott. Keddie missed a glorious opportunity to equalise before the Pars conceded another soft goal. A good third, a Skacel header with the last kick(!) of the game and an injury to Gallacher add up to a bad day all round.
There was some slight easement to the Pars injury list with Paul Burns now fit enough to play, albeit at left wing-back, and Joe Cardle, who might not have made it last week, back on the bench. Paddy Boyle was out, though and the team still had a little bit of a threadbare look to it. The initial formation was a 3-5-2 – the 3 centre backs of Dowie, Potter and Keddie in front of Gallacher, the aforementioned Burns and Willis as wing-backs, a central trio of Hardie, Mason and Graham, and Liam Buchanan was recalled to start in attack alongside Andy Barrowman. Ex-Jambo Andy Kirk had to settle for a bench place, along with Ryan Thomson, Cardle, Pat Clarke, Shaun Byrne, Kerr Young and of course Chris Smith.
Hearts had finally paid their players for November, although Andrew Driver was rumoured to be on the point of submitting a transfer request, so he was marked absent. A 4-5-1 resulted, with Mehdi Taouil and David Templeton coming in from wide positions to support Stephen Elliot, Scott Robinson would link from midfield where Mrowiec and the combative Black would try to win the battle in the middle of the park. Whether the resolution of the wages issue is temporary or permanent remains to be seen; we would not have long to wait to see the immediate effect on the Hearts’ players performance.
The Pars kicked off, and within 40 seconds Liam Buchanan was trying a speculative shot, although Kello had no real difficulty in making the first save of the game. Seconds later, Willis was able to put in a good cross despite a late bobble, but Barrowman couldn’t get on the end of it. A promising start, then, almost immediately undone as McIntyre’s best laid schemes had to be torn up. Hardie lost out to Black from the goal-kick, and only Burns dashing back to head beyond his goal line prevented further damage. Not for long, as Ryan McGowan was allowed to meet Ian Black’s corner unchallenged, and although the defence might have got away with this, they compounded the error by being slow to react and allowing Elliott to poke the loose ball home from close range. 1-0 Hearts
Three minutes later Hearts had another corner, the defending being only marginally better with this time Gallacher stopping McGowan’s effort. The Pars did try to hit back – Willis, who had nearly found Barrowman from an early free-kick whipped in, managed to beat McGowan but had a bit of a rush of blood and shot over from distance. Soon after he won the Pars a corner, and with the ball only half cleared, Graham chipped it back in to Keddie who had sprung the off-side trap, but after chesting the ball down well, and with only the keeper to beat, Alex completely miscued his shot across the face of the goal. A great chance for Alex to score at the right end for a change spurned. A minute later, Keddie nearly made a hash of clearing the ball at his back-post with Gallacher backpedalling, but just managed to sclaff the ball out for a corner.
Hearts were exploiting the gaps behind the wing backs – Hamill’s cross into the corridor of uncertainty between back-line and keeper met no takers in 19 minutes and from the other side Templeton was equally dangerous with Gallacher managing to paw away his cross three minutes later. Keddie was struggling and his day didn’t get any better when the referee Richmond got in the way of the ball causing Keddie to lunge in and earn the game’s first caution for clattering Mrowiec.
Hearts were comfortably on top, Taouil skimming the bar after turning Burns inside-out in 26 minutes, before doubling the lead in 28. This time it started to go wrong on the Pars right – McGowan going past Willis and Dowie with ease and finding the unmarked Taouil in the box, whose scuffed shot completely flummoxed a wrong-footed Gallacher, rolling into the net. 2-0 Hearts.
This prompted a tactical switch, possibly too late, with the Pars moving to a 4-4-2 – Burns took over at right back with Keddie moving to left back. This stemmed the tide towards the school end, but with the midfield weakened the Pars had sacrificed their offensive potential with only another Willis free-kick – just touched to safety by Kello -and a hugely ambitious long range effort from Hardie giving even the remotest hope to the travelling support throughout the remainder of the half.
Half time – Jam Tarts 2 Pars 0
The start of the second half gave some brief hope, Willis made a good run down the right after seemingly running the ball out of play, and a couple of minutes later Hardie and Burns combined well , the later crossing for Buchanan but Kello pulled off a good save to deny the Pars man. With the third goal allegedly critical, you felt this was perhaps the Pars last chance to get something from the game. Hearts had maybe been caught in two minds – unsure whether to go for a third, or merely snuff out the Pars threat and wait for the inevitable mistake.
Sure enough, a chance soon arrived for the home team – Graham, who had been quieter than usual, had to turn backwards to keep possession in 57 minutes, and rather than start a run from deep elected to pass to Hardie who dwelt on the ball and Elliott was able to scoot away, only to find the side netting. Templeton was next to go close on the hour mark, a spot of keepie-uppie in the box followed by a 180 degree turn and shot but the ball went beyond the far post.