Friday, 28 December 2012
Saturday, 8 December 2012
I blame Scott Wilson. Three weeks ago, there was a near full house at Tynecastle for Hearts vital 1-0 win over St. Mirren. This, alluded to a near full house at Murrayfield for Scotland’s rugby union international with South Africa, meant severe crowd congestion in the Edinburgh’s west end and Scott suggested fans might like to stagger their journey home as they would inevitably encounter delays. Now, as Scott is Scotland’s top stadium announcer by some distance, I took the legendary broadcaster to his word - and headed for the pub.
It was meant to be a quick pint but I got into a discussion with another Hearts supporter and we discussed what was the best Hearts performance we had seen over the years. The 2012 William Hill Scottish Cup Final was up there with the most memorable result but I have to say I’ve seen Hearts play better over the years - after all, we only won 5-1 that day…
One game that did spring to mind was back in 1999 against Aberdeen. Hearts had endured a difficult season in 1998/99 - the break up of the Scottish Cup winning team of the season before had a considerable impact - and the maroons were, at one stage, fighting relegation.Hearts lost hugely influential midfielder Colin Cameron to an injury serious enough to keep him out until March. With other players suffering from injury and loss of form, manager Jim Jefferies moved to strengthen the squad. He signed midfielders Vincent Guerin and Juanjo respectively and former Rangers striker Gary McSwegan on a free transfer from Dundee United. Midfielder Lee Makel, signed the previous season from Blackburn Rovers as cover for Colin Cameron, was given the chance to make the midfield position his own. No one was harder working than the Englishman, but he lacked the goalscoring prowess of Cameron and with John Robertson now having left Tynecastle for pastures new and with players losing form, there became a real concern about where the goals would come from.
After a miserable run of games at the beginning of 1999 during which they could hardly score a goal let alone win a game, Hearts slumped to the bottom of the SPL in February. Less than a year after Scottish Cup glory, Hearts were staring relegation in the face. Then, three things happened that turned Hearts season around.
Firstly, Jefferies signed Celtic attacking midfielder Darren Jackson for £300k. Secondly, Gary McSwegan scored Hearts first competitive goal for eight weeks in a 2-2 draw against Kilmarnock - and then couldn’t stop scoring. Thirdly, Colin Cameron returned from injury. Hearts then won 3-1 at Dundee United and the season had turned.
By the time they headed to Aberdeen for the final game of the season they were safe from relegation - and proceeded to put on a five star show at Pittodrie.
Just two minutes were played, when Gary McSwegan fired a low right-foot shot past keeper Warner to give the visitors the lead. However, Aberdeen equalised just five minutes later, when Buchan unleashed an effort from 25 yards that whistled past Roddy McKenzie in the Hearts goal. This was the cue for Aberdeen to have a period of dominance, with Mayer and Jess coming close, although Hearts always looked dangerous when McSwegan had the ball. Half time came with the teams level - but that was a situation that didn’t last long when the second half got underway. And it was a carbon copy of the first half, when McSwegan was given all the time in the world to control the ball, turn and hit a magnificent effort past Warner to restore Hearts lead. Two minutes later, McSwegan completed his hat-trick when he tapped home from close range following a fine sweeping move that involved Darren Jackson and Colin Cameron. Hearts were 3-1 ahead. Three minutes later, a now rampant Hearts surged forward again with Jackson and McSwegan this time providing the link up play for Cameron to make a trademark run into the visitor’s penalty box. ‘Mickey’ was tripped by Buchan but dusted himself down before sending keeper Warner the wrong way to slot home the penalty to put Hearts 4-1 ahead - with just seven minutes played in the second half. Jess did pull a goal back for the Dons with half an hour to go, but two minutes later, Hearts French striker Stephane Adam - the cup final hero from 12 months and a week earlier - delivered a superb cross into the Aberdeen penalty box where Thomas Flogel nonchanently flicked the ball past the despairing Warner. There were still 35 minutes left and Hearts were, astonishingly 5-2 ahead and looking hungry for more. It was only a combination of good luck and fine goalkeeping by Warner - this might seem a strange thing to say given, he lost five goals - that kept Hearts to five. Nonetheless, the final score of Aberdeen 2 Hearts 5 was the Tynecastle side’s biggest win at Pittodrie for 49 years.
It had been a magnificent end to a rollercoaster season and one of the best Hearts performances I had seen since my first game in 1968. A similar result today would be an ideal early Christmas present!
Hearts Greatest Games still available at all good bookshops and on amazon.