Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hearts hype is way short of reality

According to much of the sports media, the Scottish Premier League title is now 'open' and a 'three-horse race'. My advice is not to believe the hype. 'Hearts on fire' reads the Scotland on Sunday headline (aping the famous song) after the Tynecastle club squeaked a 1-0 win over Rangers yesterday with a 77th minute goal from Ryan Stevenson. Even the BBC is telling us they are "genuine title contenders".

Nonsense. Far from being 'on fire' Hearts looked lacklustre for the majority of the match, with only Rangers' failure to take their chances giving them the opportunity to claim all three points from what was effectively their first shot on target from the game. Don't get me wrong. I was delighted to see the 'Gers beaten, very happy for Edinburgh, and extremely satisfied to have seen both Old Firm sides lose on my two live games in Gorgie this season (this one being made possible by the regrettable calling-off of Dumbarton's game at East Fife).

But there's no point kidding ourselves. The Jambos would (I'm sad to say) struggle in the second tier of English football, let alone the first. Rangers looked peaky too, especially in the wake of Kenny Miller's probably ill-fated decision to take the money and run to Turkey. And Hearts looked weak up front without Kevin Kyle, with Rudi Skacel looking less than his best - and with Rangers' Kyle Lafferty seeming lonely up front too, incidentally.

I'll be happy to be proved wrong and to see the Celtic-Rangers duopoly broken for the first time since the mid-80s with Alex Ferguson's high-flying Aberdeen. But the economic circumstances are much less equitable now than then (naive advocates of a ten-team SPL in the C21st, please note), the Old Firm depth of squad much greater, and the real test of Hearts' mettle will be the two away games at Parkhead and Ibrox which are just about to come up. My advance prediction is that they won't take more than one point out of those two encounters. Sadly. 

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