ROBBIE Neilson failed to achieve the win he wanted in his home debut as Hearts’ head coach, but there was still plenty for the former club captain to be encouraged by following this narrow defeat to English champions Manchester City.
Scorers: Hearts: Sow (56); Manchester City: Sinclair (25 ), Kolarov (pen 80)
City midfielder Scott Sinclair’s first- half strike was cancelled out by Hearts trialist Osman Sow after the interval, but Aleksandar Kolarov netted a late penalty.
Despite Neilson’s stewardship still being in its infancy, he is clearly getting his message across on the training pitch about the way he wants his team to play.
Goalkeeper Neil Alexander barely kicked the ball long all night, the shot-stopper instead opting to interact with central midfielder Morgaro Gomis and the full-backs in a bid to build from the back.
It was billed as a night of celebration. The visit of the Manchester club was used to mark the centenary of the main stand at Tynecastle, and new owner Ann Budge’s maiden column in the matchday programme also noted that this was the first clash in Gorgie since the club officially exited administration last month following a year-long battle for survival.
The Hearts players, many of them making their debuts at Tynecastle, donned – for the first time – a strip dedicated to the heroic members of the squad who made the ultimate sacrifice in the First World War.
Hearts supporters also had the chance to get their photograph taken with the Barclays Premier League trophy during the course of the day and City proudly displayed their reward for last season’s triumph at pitch side prior to kick-off.
Of the new recruits brought in by Neilson, goalkeeper Alexander, defender Alim Ozturk, midfielders Morgaro Gomis and Prince Bauben started, while forward James Keatings came off the bench. Released Crystal Palace striker Sow began as a trialist up front in
his second game for the Edinburgh outfit.
But there was no place in the matchday squad for Scott Gallacher just hours after the goalkeeper put pen to paper on a two-year deal after leaving Rangers.
Still without their World Cup stars, the visitors – beaten 2-0 by Dundee on Sunday – had a collection of players in their squad for the home fans to get excited about; Samir Nasri, Javier Garcia and Alvaro Negredo among others. City manager Manuel Pellegrini, with the exception of Scott Sinclair, named two different sides in either half.
The away team were backed by around 1,000 of their own fans and they saw City create the first chance after five minutes. Jesus Navas broke down the right flank and pulled a pass back for Samir Nasri but the Frenchman’s tame shot from the edge of the box rolled comfortably into Alexander’s arms.
Hearts winger Sam Nicholson looked lively during the early stages as the City defence struggled to cope with his direct runs. The winger picked out Sow with a cross after 13 minutes but the Swede headed harmlessly wide from ten yards.
Nicholson’s night came to an premature end three minutes later when he went off with an apparent groin injury. Billy King climbed off the bench.
Hearts engineered the first real opening after 19 minutes when Jamie Walker threaded a pass through to Dale Carrick in the penalty box but the striker’s left-footed strike from a tight angle was repelled by goalkeeper Richard Wright.
City were not so forgiving in the final third and Pellegrini’s side went ahead after 25 minutes.
Negredo found Sinclair in the box and the midfielder kept his calm amid shouts for offside to roll the ball past Alexander from close range.
New goalkeeper Willy Caballero was among the raft of changes made at the break by the visitors and his attempted clearance from a pass back was charged down by Sow. But the Spanish shot-stopper pounced on the loose ball.
Swedish forward Sow was not to be denied in the 56 minute, as he raced on to Carrick’s pass to lift the ball past Caballero into the net.
Chances were at a premium after the break. City forward John Guidetti hit a powerful left-footed effort that flew wide of substitute goalkeeper Jack Hamilton’s goal.
City were then awarded a penalty with ten minutes left when Callum Paterson brought down Emyr Huws after taking a bad first touch.
Kolarov – roundly booed after criticising Paterson for a challenge on goalkeeper Caballero – silenced the home fans with a clinical finish.
Hearts: Alexander (Hamilton 71); Paterson, Wilson (McGhee 77), Ozturk (McKay 71), McHattie, Walker (Holt 57), Bauben (Robinson), Gomis (Oliver 77), Nicholson (King 16), Carrick (Keatings 57), Sow (Smith 57)
Manchester City: (first half): Wright, Richards, Rekik, Nastasic, Leigh, Garcia, Navas, Nasri, Sinclair, Zuculini, Negredo
(second half): Caballero, Bossaerts (Clichy 72), Boyata,, Kolarov, Denayer, Francisco Reges, Rodwell, Sinclair, Huws, Jovetic, Guidetti.