Hearts head and shoulders above rivals

Callum Paterson climbs above Dumbarton defender Andy Graham to head home his side's fourth goal. Picture: SNS
Callum Paterson climbs above Dumbarton defender Andy Graham to head home his side's fourth goal. Picture: SNS
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COLIN Nish did not like losing 5-1 to Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday, but he can live with it. “We knew it would be difficult,” he said. “They’re a very good team, especially in this league. Whether you come here and get beat 5-1 or 2-1, it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, you lose three points.”

Hearts 5-1 Dumbarton

Scorers: Hearts - Sow (26), Buaben (40 pen), Holt (56), Paterson (84), King (88) ; Dumbarton - Fleming (73)

Neither does he mind the ribbing that he and several former Hibs players in the travelling party were subjected to throughout. As well as Nish, Dumbarton had David Van Zanten at right-back, together with Ian Murray and Guillaume Beuzelin in the dugout. “You enjoy it,” said the 33-year-old striker, whose every touch prompted a ripple of boos.

What Nish doesn’t like is match officials who lack the courage of their convictions. He says that Hearts’ strong position at the top of the Championship combined with another healthy Tynecastle crowd to influence one or two key decisions by John McKendrick, the referee.

According to Nish, Hearts were good, but not brilliant. They were comfortably the better team, but not 5-1 better. That they ended Dumbarton’s six-match unbeaten run with something of a romp could be attributed to more than just the disparity between the sides.

Asked about the quality of Robbie Neilson’s side, who have now beaten every team in the Championship, Nish said: “They’ve got a lot of pace and they move the ball quickly. They’re just a good team. I’m not saying the others aren’t also good, but Hearts are good, and when the referee is getting influenced by 20,000 supporters, it doesn’t help. It happens all the time. The referees are scared.”

The attendance was just 15,522, but you get the point. Murray claimed that everybody in the stadium, except McKendrick, had spotted infringements during the build-up to Hearts’ fourth and fifth goals. “Hearts played really well,” said Nish. “They beat us fair and square. I just think referees should be a wee bit stronger in the way they go about things.”

So, too, should Hearts’ opponents. The Edinburgh side’s unbeaten league record gives them a nine-point advantage over second-placed Rangers. On Sunday, they will contest the Edinburgh derby at Easter Road, confident that they can be as successful against the current Hibs players as they were against their former ones on Saturday.

To say that this was not Hearts’ best performance of the season is, in many ways, a compliment. Early in the second half, with the game already won, they were careless and complacent, which only goes to show how dangerous they will be when they are at it for 90 minutes.

Dumbarton, who held Hearts to a draw in September, could not replicate that resistance here.

In less than half an hour, they were a goal down, thanks to Callum Paterson’s curling cross and a downward header by Osman Sow. They doubled their lead when Scott Linton clattered into Billy King, leaving McKendrick with little option but to give a penalty. Prince Bauben’s spot kick was weak, but Danny Rogers allowed it to squirm through his body. At Easter Road seven days earlier, the Dumbarton goalkeeper had got away with a similar mistake. This time, he didn’t.

Early in the second half, the lead was extended. Sam Nicholson had already hit the bar when Jason Holt, on for Sow – who had a tight hamstring – was given too much time and space to drive a firm shot into the bottom corner. It was after this that Hearts grew sloppy. Garry Fleming hooked one into the net for Dumbarton after Nish had headed back across goal. Jordan Kirkpatrick curled one wide, Steven McDougall tested the goalkeeper and Andy Graham’s header drifted over.

But Hearts have made a habit this season of finishing with a flourish, which is what they did here. When Callum Paterson headed in a corner at the back post, albeit amid claims that there had been a foul on the goalkeeper, the place was rocking again.

The possibility of a 5-1 scoreline was all the Hearts fans needed to remind Murray of the margin by which they won the 2012 Scottish Cup final. “We want five,” was the chant, and Billy King happily provided with a thumping shot near the end.

It was the ninth time this season that Hearts have scored a league goal in the last ten minutes. “That’s the game plan,” said Holt. “Keep the pressure constant, and the goals will come. We’ve done a lot of double and triple training sessions, and I think the boys are feeling the benefits.

“They are a lot fitter and if you’re fitter late in the game, you’re able to keep pressing.”