Dundee United’s Hartley hoodoo continued on Saturday, after the midfielder returned to the Hearts starting line-up and scored against United for the 4th consecutive match between the two sides.
Hartley capitalised on a controversial penalty award by referee Charlie Richmond in the 55th minute, when he judged that Stuart Duff had used an arm inside the box – much to the protests of the Dundee United players.
The 30-year-old has now scored 3 penalties in the last 3 matches against United, and it was another well struck spot kick into the bottom-right hand corner that stole all 3 points for the visitors, putting them into a 1-0 lead after 10minutes of the 2nd half.
Dundee United have won all of their last 4 home matches since the arrival of Craig Levein at the start of November, and would have won 5 in-a-row if it wasn’t for the crossbar and an inspired performance from the Hearts goalkeeper.
Craig Levein made 4 changes to the United side which beat Motherwell 3-2 at Fir Park, with defender Steven Robb replacing the suspended Christian Kalvenes and David Goodwillie in for the Noel Hunt who is out for several weeks with an ankle injury,
Alan Archibald & David McCracken were also dropped from the starting line-up, with Garry Kenneth returning to the team along with Stuart Duff.
Although, it was the Hearts side that stole most of the pre-match headlines, after it was announced that goalkeeper Craig Gordon was being dropped to the bench because of the flu – with many Hearts supporters left wondering whether Romanov was punishing the Scottish keeper for his part in Steven Pressley’s outburst against the club’s owner last month.
Hearts manager Valdas Ivanauskas made a total of 6 changes to the side which was beaten 1-0 by Aberdeen at Tynecastle, with Nerijus Barasa, Craig Gordon, Ibrahim Tall, Jose Goncalves, Neil McCann & Edgaras Jankauskas all dropped for the team – replaced by Steven Banks, Paul Hartley, Andrew Driver, Christophe Berra, Michal Pospisil & Robbie Neilson.
Dundee United started the brighter of the two sides, determined to extend their home record of 4 wins in-a-row, and within the first few minutes they were already testing the visiting keeper Steven Banks.
David Robertson fired in a 30-yard right foot shot in the 2nd minute, which the nervous goalie could only parry, but the danger was eventually cleared.
Craig Conway was causing problems for the Hearts defence with his crossing from the left wing, but with Noel Hunt out injured, there wasn’t anyone in the box capable of converting the chances.
In the 26th minute, Hearts we awarded a free-kick after Lee Mair’s late challenge on Velicka. Hartley took the freekick which curled towards the bottom corner, but Stillie brought out a great save and Velicka directed the rebound out for a goal kick.
Then came the miss of the match, Craig Conway will be kicking himself when he’s sees the replay, after he managed to miss hit a wonderful chance over the bar from close range.
Collin Samuel’s square ball from the left found Conway with an open goal at the back post, but from only a few yards, he somehow managed to put the ball over the crossbar – when it seemed easier to score.
Dundee United would regret that miss later in the match, but for the remainder of the 1st half they tried to stop Paul Hartley taking too tight a grip over the midfielder, but the Scottish International’s influence on the game was getting stronger at the match continued.
Steven Robb then had to postpone his comeback to the 1st team, after being replaced by David McCracken in the 36th minute, after picking up a hamstring injury midway through the half.
Only ten minutes into the 2nd half Hearts scored their dubious penalty, and after that they regressed into a more defensive formation and somehow managed to keep Dundee United from scoring, even though United threw everything into the Hearts penalty area.
Barry Robson was unlucky not to net the equaliser in the 79th minute, after Grant Smith – who had come on for David Goodwillie 10minutes earlier – was fouled just outside the area.
The captain stepped up to take the freekick and curled it over the Hearts wall, but with Banks beaten it came crashing off the crossbar and the defence had a chance to clear.
However, before the ball was totally cleared, Robson was brought down and had another chance to retake his freekick from almost the same place, but this time goalkeeper Banks pulled off a magnificent save at full stretch to stop it going into the bottom left-hand corner of his net.
At this stage it really was ALL Dundee United, but Hearts had almost everyone back defending their 1-0 lead.
Craig Conway had a chance to curl the ball into the box, after Collin Samuel was brought down on the right-hand side of the pitch and the ball was goal-bound after Barry Robson go onto the end of his cross and headed it towards the net – but the luck really wasn’t with Dundee United as Christophe Berra found himself in the right place to clear off the line.
The statistics tell all, with Dundee United getting 8 corners, to Hearts single one – which they didn’t even get until the 4th minute of stoppage time.
Although, the same problem of scoring goals came back to haunt Craig Levein, as Noel Hunt’s absence from the team was evident with many great crosses into the Hearts penalty box finding no United player there to get a knock on.
David Goodwillie is a great future prospect, but lacks some experience and Craig Conway was very unlucky to miss hit a fantastic opportunity which would have put United into a well deserved lead in the 1st half.
Many of the newspapers have praised Hearts for their performances in this match, but similarly to the 4-0 win earlier in the season, it was only United’s inability to convert chances which prevented a deserving United side taking anything out of the match.
Hearts are an over-rated side, they can score goals – when they actually put in the effort – but they are not a complete side and should have lost several goals, but for a great save and some poor shooting from United.
Dundee United 0-1 Hearts