WHEN the referee’s whistle signalled a minute’s silence at Tynecastle yesterday, a century of thoughts drifted on the breeze: The men who lost their lives in the Great War, the families they left behind, and football, one of the many trivial – but nonetheless vital – freedoms they fought for.
Scorers: Hearts - Ozturk (5)
This game of ours gets a bad rap at times, but it brought together more than 16,000 here not just for a Championship match – won by Hearts, thanks to another spectacular Alim Ozturk strike – but for an opportunity to reflect on who we are and where we have come from.
Gorgie is always an emotional place at this time of year, but it is especially so this weekend. In this, the 100th November since the outbreak of World War One, these two clubs are remembering those who died, including their own players – seven from Hearts, three from Raith Rovers – who never returned with McCrae’s Battalion.
The lone piper played a poignant refrain beforehand. Raith were kitted out in green and black, the colours of the Hunting Stewart tartan worn by the Royal Scots Regiment. Instead of a sponsor’s name on the front, it reads simply “remember”.
“It’s a massive event for us this year,” said Robbie Neilson, the Hearts manager. “The players all know about it. The fans know about it. Today was a big, big day for us and it will be the same tomorrow. We will come in at the back of eight to train and then we’ve got the Remembrance service. It’s a huge event for the club, something it’s good to be a part of.”
Which is not to say that the match should have been approached with anything other than the usual spirit and passion. To do otherwise would have been to miss the point. If Hearts’ performance was uncharacteristically toothless, Raith were gritty, threatening towards the end and unfortunate to be denied by Ozturk’s early goal.
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Following the same player’s last-gasp, 40-yard stunner at Easter Road two weeks earlier, Alan Stubbs, the Hibs manager, said that he could try that trick 999 times more and not score.
Well, this was his next attempt. Almost as soon as he gathered the ball in midfield, they were shouting “shoooooot”, scarcely expecting him to oblige. But oblige he did, this time from a measly 35 paces, after just four minutes. As the defenders backed off, and the fans beseeched him to let fly, he hit it with enough swerve to deceive Davie McGurn, the Raith Rovers goalkeeper, who could only help it over the line.
The tone was set. Every time Ozturk collected the ball, they pleaded for a shot, even when he was dribbling along the edge of his own penalty area. The big defender tried his best, most notably with a free-kick that curled wide, but in truth, he and his team-mates failed to build on their perfect start.
Despite having most of the ball, they lacked penetration, a shortcoming that encouraged Raith. When the visitors’ Grant Anderson swung in a cross, Paul Watson looped a backward header on to the roof of the net. Then Calum Elliot, a former Hearts striker, sent his free-kick over the bar.
Hearts fared little better in the second half. With his team creating barely a chance to speak of, Neilson brought on all three substitutes long before the end, the upshot of which was that an injury to Adam Eckersley left them with ten men.
By the end, Hearts were hanging on. Mark Stewart had only the goalkeeper to beat, but his shot was too weak.
Then, when Neil Alexander’s clearance fell to Liam Fox, the Raith player tried a Victor Wanyama-style shot at the empty goal, only to see Hearts’ goalkeeper recover.
After the early breakthrough, Neilson wondered if Hearts would repeat their four-goal win at Stark’s Park in August. “I hoped that we would, but it’s not always going to be like that. Raith are a good team. With all the Remembrance stuff before the game, it can be difficult for the players to focus, but it’s three points.”
Hearts: Alexander, McGhee, Ozturk, McKay, Eckersley, Buaben, Gomis, King, Walker (Buchanan 77), Nicholson (Holt 60), El Hassnaoui (Keatings 52). Subs not used: Gallacher, McHattie, Pallardo, S McKirdy.
Raith: McGurn, Thomson, Watson, Perry, McKeown, McKay (Stewart 66), Fox, Moon (Conroy 77), Anderson, Scott, Elliot. Subs not used: Laidlaw, Hill, Callachan, Vaughan, Nade.
Referee: C Allan.
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