IT WAS fitting that it was Hearts’ redoubtable qualities that ensured they achieved their goal of eclipsing the second-tier points record set by city rivals Hibernian. A Brad McKay penalty deep into injury-time catapulted the runaway champions on to the 90 mark and put yet more icing on the cake ahead of next weekend’s trophy presentation.
Scorers: Cowdenbeath - Marshall 14; Hearts - Paterson 33; McKay 90 pen
Colin Marshall earned Cowdenbeath a shock lead in the 14th minute but, following Callum Paterson’s headed equaliser before the interval, the midfielder finished the match as the home side’s scapegoat after he was adjudged to have bundled over the waspish Jamie Walker with the full-time whistle just seconds away.
As a remarkable campaign prepares to draw to a close with the visit of Rangers, McKay’s success from the spot gave Hearts yet another reason to puff out their chests and celebrate.
“We spoke about it a few weeks ago,” said head coach Robbie Neilson, “about trying to get that points record and take it back to Tynecastle, and we’ve managed to do it. Hibs had a fantastic season in 1998-99 but we’ve managed to match that and surpass it. It’s great for the players and great for the club.”
For Cowdenbeath, Hearts were possibly the last team they would have wanted to see pitching up in Fife with points precious to their relegation battle. Just eight weeks have passed since that record 10-0 hammering at Tynecastle in February and it took just 15 seconds for Hearts to show early intent on racking up another comfortable victory.
Just as he had in December, Robbie Neilson fielded full-back Paterson into a target man role to counter the poor quality and diminished dimensions of Cowdenbeath’s playing surface and it was a tactic that paid almost instant dividends. From the kick-off, the ball was shuffled back to Alim Ozturk and the centre-half’s long ball was chested down by Paterson, whose left-foot drive on the bounce from the left edge of the area rattled the bar on its way over.
In the 14th minute, however, Cowdenbeath surged ahead with a well worked goal that was notably created along the ground. Kudus Oyenuga was brave in touching a ball down the flank before being clattered by Kevin McHattie and Marshall steamed into the box to hammer in Jon Robertson’s cutback.
With skipper Danny Wilson suspended, Hearts looked less than comfortable in defence, whilst in attack their long-ball game-plan floundered on a lack of quality in the passes being made. Too often crosses hit the first defender or floated too long. On the one occasion Jordan McGhee was filtered into space on the right his shot ricocheted upwards before McHattie headed onto the roof of the net.
Yet, for all they were struggling with their tactics, there was a sense of inevitability when it was Paterson who equalised in the 33rd minute. Cowdenbeath almost managed to break after clearing a corner but Hearts regained possession and when Walker lifted a cross into the box, the makeshift marksman rose to nod in from four yards.
The home side were momentarily winded but finished the half strongly. They had two penalty appeals turned down and, when Marshall harried stand-in Hearts captain Margaro Gomis into coughing up possession, Colin Nish struck a clear opportunity too close to Jack Hamilton before swiping the rebound well over.
The second-half was largely uneventful. Home keeper Robbie Thomson repelled efforts from Walker and Osman Sow, twice, before finally being beaten in cruel fashion.
A draw would not have been enough for the Fifers to avoid a final-day shoot-out with Alloa for Championship safety, but manager Jimmy Nicholl saw enough in his players to convince him it is now a challenge they can meet.
“It was difficult to take but I still think we’re going to be all right,” he said. “I’ve told everybody the same thing, that in this league it’s difficult and that it might be the last game before we’re safe. So, if it’s next week then bring it on. I honestly believe our boys will be confident that they can retrieve the situation and keep us in the Championship; the way they’re talking and the way they are at the minute is good.”
Cowdenbeath: Thomson; Toshney, Brownlie, Armstrong, Wedderburn (Miller 64); Robertson, Marshall, O’Brien, Milne (Johnston 82); Oyenuga, Nish. Subs not used: Sneddon, Campbell, Kane, Callaghan, Halsman.
Hearts: Hamilton; McGhee (Keatings 64), McKay, Ozturk, McHattie; Walker, Gomis, Anderson (El Hassnaoui 77), Sow; Paterson, Zeefuik (Nicholson 54). Subs not used: Gallacher, Oliver, McKirdy, Smith
Referee: C. Charleston. Attendance: 2,394