THE match had ended in yet another Hearts victory and the crowd were excitedly awaiting the re-emergence of their league winners. “I think it’s about time we got this party started,” bellowed the stadium announcer.
Scorers: Hearts - Sow (6),′ Ozturk (67′)
The truth is the celebrations had been raging all week, from the minute Hibs’ defeat at the hands of Rangers brought to an end the pretence that the title was bound for anywhere other than Tynecastle.
That didn’t stop the supporters raising the roof as the directors, led by saviour Ann Budge – who thanked the fans – and director of football Craig Levein entered the arena to be followed by the players, decked out in Champions t-shirts and large smiles.
As they completed the lap of honour, all that was missing was the trophy. In front of a jubilant and grateful support, there were the party songs booming, there were scarves as headbands and the manager was thrown in the air. There were the celebrity fans as Rebus star Ken Stott watched from the side of the pitch and the players plucked their offspring from the stands to join the celebrations. But they will have to wait until the last game against Rangers on May 2 to get the silverware, a blow-up champagne bottle serving as a stand-in prop yesterday.
It was day that was savoured by all those of a Hearts persuasion, the cheery conclusion to a story that had threatened a scary ending.
Of course, there have been other party occasions at Tynecastle in the recent past. There have been Scottish Cup winning celebrations and an impromptu singalong with Takis Fyssas after the Gorgie side beat Rangers into second place in the SPL and secured a stab at Champions League football.
But in terms of winning a league title, it’s been three and a half decades since they’ve had that excuse to crack open the bubbly. Few in these parts expected to experience that again, given the part played by finances and the resultant Glasgow duopoly. Even when they surrendered to the mess bequeathed them by Vladimir Romanov and tumbled into the game’s second tier, they faced the task of bettering a Rangers squad assembled thanks to the second biggest wage bill in Scotland. Many, including some within the club itself feared they were reliant on a play-off place if they wanted a quick return to the Premiership but their approach was worthy of yesterday’s celebrations.
It has been an almost unerring progression towards the trophy from day one when they rallied to defeat the Ibrox side on their own patch and the swagger shown thereafter merited the guard of honour performed by Queen of the South as they emerged from the tunnel pre-match.
Manager Robbie Neilson had made it clear that he does not want his players to slacken off and was happy the players felt the same way. As soon as the squall of balloons that delayed kick-off as they swirled peskily around the pitch was dealt with, Hearts took the game by the scruff of the neck.
From the outset they showed a will to win that was rewarded in the sixth minute when Osman Sow scored the opening goal. Craig Paterson got the ball in his own half and played in Billy King, who cut inside and found the tall Swedish striker, who turned and sent an angled drive into Zander Clark’s net.
Queen of the South are still a side in the play-off reckoning and, despite the way they had welcomed their opponents on to the pitch, they did not bow to reputations, searching for an equaliser.
But the match and the victory were too important to Hearts and as they have proved time and time again this season, when that’s the case there is little chance of subduing them.
It took them until the 67th minute to find the goal that killed off any hopes Queen of the South had of putting a dampner of the party atmosphere.
It was a free-kick from Alim Ozturk which kick-started another round of the favourite songs – and the mood brightened further as the regular updates filtered through from rival Hibs’ match.
Their defeat saw Hearts end the day 26 points ahead of the second-placed side, emphasising the superiority.
They still may not have the trophy in their hands but it has long-since been obvious it is coming. It’s just that yesterday, finally, the fans, the players and the staff were free to celebrate it.
Hearts: Alexander, Paterson, Ozturk, Wilson, Eckersley, King (Nicholson 58), Pallardo, Gomis, Walker, Sow (El Hassnaoui 75), Zeefuik (Keatings 68). Unused subs: Gallacher, McHattie, Anderson, McKay.
Queen of the South: Clark, Dowie, Durnan, Higgins, Holt, Carmichael, Millar (Kidd 68), McKenna (McShane 62), Paton, Reilly, Lyle. Unused subs: Atkinson, Smith, Pickard, Smith, Hooper.
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 16,885.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS