ROUND the corner from Murrayfield yesterday, as news filtered through of Scotland’s struggle against Italy, Hearts racked up a rugby score of their own with a record-breaking, double-figure demolition of Cowdenbeath that maintained their 20-point lead in the Scottish Championship.
Scorers: Hearts - Zeefuik 25pen, 26, 29pen; Nicholson 33; Walker 39; Gomis 56pen; Ozturk 61; Wilson 68; Sow 71, 74
First, the records. By scoring five in each half at Tynecastle, Hearts registered their biggest-ever victory in a league match. By netting the first three of those in just three minutes and 35 seconds, Genero Zeefuik equalled the fastest hat-trick in the club’s history. The claim last night was that Andy Black did the same against Arbroath in 1938, although stopwatches in those days were not what they are now.
As for the fun, well, the Hearts supporters lapped this up. The joke was that it would be a welcome boost to their goal difference in the title run-in. By the time it reached seven and eight, they were booing those few attacks that didn’t result in a goal. “Neil, Neil swing on the bar,” they chanted at their goalkeeper, Neil Alexander, who was also rather cheekily given one of the man-of-the-match awards.
All of which was cruel on Cowdenbeath, who were reduced to 10 men when they went three down. Anyone with an ounce of compassion must surely have felt for Jimmy Nicholl, manager of the visiting side, who stood helpless in a downpour as the goals rained in.
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Robbie Neilson admitted turning to his assistant, Stevie Crawford, midway through the second half and voicing sympathy for his opposite number, but business is business. It was not the Hearts manager’s fault that the goals came so easily.
“We went down to Queen of the South last week and won 2-1 and that was probably a better performance,” said Neilson. “We had to fight and work really hard and come back from a goal down, as opposed to today where we got three goals in three minutes and got a man sent off so the game was finished.”
Poor old Cowdenbeath were on the ropes long before their opponents opened the scoring. Alim Ozturk glanced his free kick off the outside of a post. Zeefuik was denied by the advancing goalkeeper after Jamie Walker had fed him. Then Billy King, spinning away from his man in the channel, crashed his shot off the bar when a cross looked likely.
The goalrush started after 25 minutes. When Sam Nicholson’s shot hit Kenny Adamson’s hand, the referee pointed to the spot. Zeefuik sauntered up to the dead ball and struck it in off the base of the left-hand post, a patch of paintwork that he would reacquaint himself with just a few seconds later. With his back to goal, the Dutchman faked away from his marker, Jon Robertson, and struck a low one in off the same upright. As the public announcer quickly revised his update of Zeefuik’s tally for the season, the striker was already forcing another recount with his third of the day. Lewis Toshney pulled down Nicholson in the box, the Cowdenbeath defender was sent off and you know who stepped up to put it in the bottom-left corner.
With only 10 men, a dazed Cowdenbeath were in no fit state to deal with this alarming situation. Three minutes later, they were four down when Nicholson burst into the penalty area and blasted high past Robbie Thomson’s forlorn right hand. Six minutes after that, it was five. Nicholson again emerged from the midfield, but this time it broke to Walker, who shot low from the edge of the area into the bottom corner.
Any hopes Cowdenbeath had of Hearts going easy on them after the interval were quickly exposed as naive. King had a shot beaten away by the goalkeeper, who also denied Walker before another penalty was conceded. Dean Brett was the culprit, bringing down Morgaro Gomis, who didn’t just take the penalty, he chipped it down the middle, Panenka-style, to rub it in.
At this juncture, Neilson made a triple substitution, one of which was Osman Sow for Zeefuik, who was given a standing ovation as he departed. The changes did nothing to interrupt Hearts’ rhythm. Within two minutes, they had scored another, this time courtesy of Ozturk’s missile into the top corner.
Three more came in the space of a six-minute spell that took Hearts’ tally into double figures. After a corner from the right, Callum Paterson’s effort was blocked on the line, but Danny Wilson was on hand to turn in the rebound. Sow scored the ninth after latching on to a clever reverse pass before rattling in the 10th with a low shot into the bottom corner.
“I’m really disappointed for everyone associated with the club because it is embarrassing to lose a football match by those sort of figures,” said Nicholl.
Hearts: Alexander; Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley; Pallardo, Gomis; King (El Hassnaoui 59), Walker (Keatings 59), Nicholson; Zeefuik (Sow 59). Subs not used: Gallacher, Anderson, McKay, McGhee.
Cowdenbeath: Thomson; Brett, Toshney, O’Brien, Wedderburn, Adamson; Robertson, Kane (Armstrong 46), D Hughes; Nish, Herron (Milne 71). Subs not used: Sneddon, Higgins, Brownlie, Oyenuga, Miller, Armstrong.
Referee: Bobby Madden. Attendance: 15,180