Battling against Storm Dennis, Hearts and Hamilton Academical played out a scrappy 2-2 draw at Tynecastle. On a bitterly cold and wet Saturday afternoon, the two relegation-threatened clubs took a point each, meaning little was done to calm fears of the drop.
Hearts came into the game as marginal favourites. Only one point separated the sides, but with home advantage and the tactical nous of manager Daniel Stendel, many predicted Hearts to have the upper hand. Despite the cold, at the start of the game Tynecastle fizzled with expectation, fans fully supporting their endangered team.
However, the ground fell silent in just the fifth minute of the game, as Marios Ogkmpoe fired Hamilton in front. Hearts’ right back, Sean Clare, was cruelly exposed for being out of position by a through ball. Scott Martin took advantage, bursting onto the opportunity and squaring it to the Accies’ striker, who couldn’t miss from five yards out.
In the 16th minute, Clare’s defensive frailties were once again exposed as he chopped down Ogkmpoe unnecessarily to give a clear penalty to the visiting side. Having won the spot kick and scored the first, Ogkmpoe stepped up to calmly stroke the ball into the bottom right corner and give Hamilton a 2-0 lead inside 17 minutes.
Stendel’s team looked in disarray. Throughout early parts of the first half, the German coach tried to organise his troops, but the team simply looked bewildered. Changing the formation away from 4-4-2, Hearts deployed a 4-3-1-2 set-up. Stendel’s tactics in previous games had been to build attacks by using his wide players with full backs overlapping; Hearts aimed to stretch the teams they played, creating room centrally for the strike partnership of Steven Naismith and Liam Boyce.
However, with Hearts offering little down the flanks, the team looked confused as to how to pass the ball quickly enough to break down a team from a central position.
In the first 20 minutes, it appeared Hearts could have been in for an embarrassing day. Then, in the 21st minute, Hamilton centre back and exemplar of nominative determinism Jamie Hamilton, just 17 years old, gave the Jambos a lifeline. Following a long ball played over the top of the visiting back line, Hamilton handled the ball away from the path of an advancing Boyce. The youngster was subsequently sent off, and Hearts faced ten men for the remaining 70 minutes of the match.
Naturally, Hearts began to have more of the ball following the red card and applied pressure to the Hamilton defence. Unfortunately for them, throughout the rest of the first half no significant chances were created. As the half-time whistle was blown, Tynecastle gave way to a surge of boos and profanity. The players had to produce more in the second half.
Following the break, Hamilton made the decision at half time that they were going to defend their lead, and set up in a 5-3-1 formation. The bus had been parked.
The whole second half seemed to be a constant wave of Hearts attacks. It took just three minutes for the attacking pressure to break Hamilton and, in the 48th minute, Hearts had a goal back. Aaron Hickey, Hearts’ 17-year-old left back, played a beautifully-weighted ball from the left wing onto the chest of Naismith. Following a few touches, Naismith cut the Hamilton defence open with a pass that found the advancing Jamie Walker, who drove the ball into the bottom left corner.
Hearts had the look and confidence of a team who were going to push on. However, the final ball never really materialised. Constant pressure on the Hamilton goal meant that Hearts had their chances to equalise, but they never found the finish. Hamilton’s goal keeper Luke Southwood produced some amazing saves to keep his team in the game.
Following a cross from Ben Garuccio, subbed on for Hickey in the 76th minute, Naismith had his glancing header clawed away from the top right corner by a diving Southwood.
Tynecastle got progressively more restless as the game went on. Boyce had a low drive blocked off the line by Alex Gogic in the 85th minute. With a point seemingly out of reach, inspiration struck. Moments after Stendel sent centre back Craig Halkett up front, the defender headed Hearts an equaliser in the 87th minute. The stadium erupted. Not literally, but it was pretty wild. Still, the fans wanted more. Despite a late onslaught, Hamilton held firm until the final whistle. After coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2, Hearts fans booed their players at the full time whistle, a surprising but perhaps justified response to an uninspired showing.
A point for Hearts appears valuable considering how badly they started the game. However, if they are to avoid relegation, they have to start stringing some wins together. Stendel’s biggest concern will be how poor Hearts looked at the start of the game. It was only due to the red card that the home side grew into the game. Stendel must find a way to ensure that his team look organised, and have a game plan. The final few months of the season will be crucial as, understandably, the fans of this proud old club will not accept relegation.
Image Rights: Jonathon Smith