There is simply no worse start that a goalkeeper can make on his debut than to be picking the ball out of the net following the first attempt he has faced. For Hearts’ Republic of Ireland international Colin Doyle that nightmare became a reality only 63 seconds into Saturday’s defeat by Aberdeen.
A mix-up between Olly Lee and Peter Haring allowed Stevie May space on the left wing. His cross found Sam Cosgrove rising highest above the Hearts defence and arching a header that Doyle could do nothing to stop as it sailed into the back of the net.
For the collective, it was a significant blow as they looked to show a reaction following the embarrassing collapse at Livingston the previous week, when the hosts turned a 0-0 game into a 5-0 hammering in 14 crazy minutes.
For Doyle himself, it was a frustrating beginning, having been forced to patiently wait on the sidelines since his signing in mid July.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said the 33-year-old. “I sort of expected it at the start of the season because I had come in quite late and Bobby [Zdenek Zlamal] was in already. To be fair to Bobby he played well and I’m not going to be knocking on the manager’s door while we’re top of the table winning every game. He’d be telling me to get out of his office.
“I’ve got the chance to make the shirt my own now and keep it until the end of the season.”
On the goal, he added: “Yeah, first thing I do is pick the ball out of the back of the net. Great start. It’s just a case of that was when they scored their goal.
“I don’t think there was much I could have done about it. We should have done better to defend the initial throw. I thought we responded well, got back into it, got a great chance in the first half and were unlucky not to take it.”
The chance he is referring to came when a pre-rehearsed free-kick move found Steven MacLean in space 12 yards from goal. A heavy touch cost him dearly as Joe Lewis was able to scramble from his line and block the shot. Hearts would later become incensed when footage of the incident showed that, away from play, Steven Naismith was hauled to the ground by Max Lowe.
Craig Levein felt his side should have been granted a spot-kick again in the second period when Haring was allegedly barged as he tried to head for goal.
The Hearts boss insisted that the only penalty given in the game – awarded by John Beaton for Christophe Berra fouling Scott McKenna – was the softest of the lot. His goalkeeper certainly agrees with that assertion, believing McKenna tried his luck when he realised he wasn’t getting to the cross and chose to give the referee a decision to make. “We kept saying it every week,” said Doyle, referring to the calls that have been going against Hearts. “I know this is my first game but I’ve obviously been watching it every week from the sidelines. It’s disappointing. Naismith was clearly pulled down from the clever free-kick that we worked. And at their one the lad sees the ball is going out of play and just chucks himself on the ground, and the referee gave it. I don’t think we’re getting the rub of the green at the present.”
The 2-0 defeat – secured when Cosgrove tucked away the penalty for his second of the game – was Hearts’ seventh in ten games. Levein expects Uche Ikpeazu and John Souttar to return from injury in January, while David Vanecek’s arrival on a free transfer should help matters also. Before then, though, there are two league fixtures remaining before the winter break: home to Hamilton on Wednesday and an Edinburgh derby meeting with Hibs at Easter Road.
Doyle added: “We’ve got a big week. Wednesday is a big game for us. We need to pick up three points and then take that into the derby. It’s only around the corner that we’ll turn things around and once you do confidence builds, so hopefully we can get a win on Wednesday and go on a run from there.”