Hearts 2-2 Inverness CT: Ten-man Inverness give Hearts Euro wake-up call
THROWING away a two-goal lead against a team down to ten men is hardly the perfect warm-up for a Europa League play-off against a club synonymous with European achievements.
Scorers: Hearts - Novikovas (15), Sutton (pen 41); Inverness CT - A Shinnie (pen 58), Pepper (90)
But if the draw with Inverness Caledonian Thistle felt more like defeat to Hearts, it did little to knock the self-belief ahead of Thursday’s big one.
“Even if we had won this one, we would still have gone out with the same attitude against Liverpool and we still hope to do well,” said Ryan McGowan. His manager John McGlynn said he was worried that his team’s second-half performance, when they allowed the Highland outfit to snatch a share of the spoils, would be tantamount to suicide against higher calibre players, saying if they could lose goals so easily to Terry Butcher men, they were liable to concede them to the English Premier League side.
After all, Inverness weren’t even at full strength by that stage, having gifted Hearts the numerical advantage after Richie Foran was sent off just before the interval, and everyone can remember the ease with which Tottenham carved them open last season. But while some will see that as reason to hope Liverpool come under-strength and under-prepared, McGowan displayed undented confidence. “I’m not really too fussy who they send out to play, but I would rather they played their best team so that no-one has any excuses when we get a result,” said McGowan.
“We are still confident. It is a different game and we have four days to pick ourselves and get ready for that and it’s probably an ideal game for us to go into because everyone will be fired up. I thought that in the first half [against Caledonian Thistle] we were really good and passed the ball well. We made a lot of chances and scored good goals, but the second half went a bit pear-shaped and we didn’t defend as well as we can and we didn’t press and do the things we had been doing in the first half. But if we can take the positive from the first half into the game on Thursday then we can do okay.” While the look on his face and the mood of his manager suggested otherwise, he insisted it wasn’t “all doom and gloom. It was still a draw, we didn’t lose. We’ve still not lost this season.”
The outcome felt like a victory to the travelling troops, though. The manager was ecstatic, while Foran, who sat out the first two matches of the SPL campaign due to suspension and hopes the club will appeal Saturday’s red card so that he won’t be sidelined again, admitted the mood in the away dressing room was celebratory.
Their equalising goal, deep into added time, had been hard fought for, but it should never have been a possibility. After the first 45 minutes they had looked dead and buried. A bright start was quashed when Hearts found their rhythm and a lovely passage of play involving Andy Driver and Darren Barr and finished off with a beautiful curling finish by Arvydas Novikovas in the 15th minute gave the home side the opening goal and control of the game.
They were denied a decent penalty shout in the 27th minute when John Sutton was hauled to the turf by Simon King. There were plenty who considered it a legitimate claim, but referee Bobby Madden wasn’t one of them. He did point to the spot in the 39th minute, though. After a melee in the box, Marius Zaliukas lay in agony in the goalmouth, although goalkeeper Ryan Esson’s strong challenge on him was deemed acceptable. It was a sneaky tug on Sutton’s shirt which caught the official’s eye.
When the penalty area was eventually cleared of injured personnel, Sutton himself slotted it past Esson. Hearts were looking good at that stage, and they were sitting even prettier a few minutes later. Despite Zaliukas succumbing in the 44th minute to a dead leg, which has left the captain facing a race against time to make the starting line-up on Thursday, Hearts were helped by the sending-off of his Inverness counterpart just before the break for a wild tackle on McGowan.
But, with nothing to lose in the second half and a spirit which seemingly leaves them incapable of accepting defeat, Inverness ram-raided their way back into the match. Throwing caution to the wind and everybody forward, they rode their luck at the back, where the defence quite literally put their bodies on the line with some thundering last-gasp tackles and blocks. It gave them a way back. In the 58th minute, teenager Callum Paterson was controversially adjudged to have tripped Graeme Shinnie as he advanced, yet again, into the Hearts box. His brother Andrew converted from the spot. As Hearts looked a bit rattled, Inverness turned the screw and with the final seconds ticking down, a ball in behind Paterson gave them the chance to get the cross into the box. There, waiting just in front of goal, was 18-year-old debutant Conor Pepper and he got the vital touch to send the ball into the roof of the net.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
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