Encouragement in defeat on a day of remembrance

Hearts V Raith Rovers 8th November 2014 A lone piper as part of the rememberance commemerations
Hearts V Raith Rovers 8th November 2014 A lone piper as part of the rememberance commemerations

Hearts 1 Raith 0

An improved Raith performance wasn’t enough to prevent Hearts taking the points - but this match will be remembered for the moving World War One tributes that took place prior to kick-off.

A near capacity 16,372 crowd inside Tynecastle fell silent as a lone piper’s lament stirred up thoughts of the young footballers who lost their lives after signing up for McCrae’s Battalion almost exactly 100 years ago.

A truly poignant moment to lift the hairs on the back of your neck.

As the teams and 22 young mascots lined up across the centre circle, it was hard to imagine the likes of Sam Nicholson and Barrie McKay - two talented teenage footballers on either side - giving up their careers to go to war.

It put the game itself in perspective, but once the action started, the three points on offer came back into focus.

It was an important game for boths clubs - Hearts looking to stay four points clear at the top, and unbeaten, while Raith were simply looking for a performance that would provide some encouragement after a dismal run of form.

In the end, both sides got something from the game, although it was Hearts who left with the tangible reward of three points, while Rovers had to make do with some plaudits - something they haven’t had a lot of recently.

It was a much more workmanlike and organised Raith effort than witnessed in recent matches, where they restricted the normally free-scoring hosts to very few goalscoring opportunities, when a more convincing home victory was expected.

The disappointment for Rovers was that they did not take something from the game as, by all accounts, this was Hearts’ poorest home performance of the season, while they also finished the match with 10 men due to injury.

For all their endeavour and tidy play at times, Raith just didn’t have enough attacking presence to salvage a draw after the hosts had taken an early lead.

Alim Ozturk had already given a demonstration of his long range shooting power in the Edinburgh derby the previous week - something the Hearts fans reminded him of whenever he touched the ball as they urged him to shoot - even from the edge of his own penalty area!

Those encouragements got even louder whenever the Turkish defender strode across the halfway line, so Raith should have been well warned.

But in the fifth minute the midfield backed off, distracted by forward runners, and Ozturk accepted the crowd’s pleas to shoot, unleashing a right-foot rocket that may have been well within reach of David McGurn, but the power, swerve and slippery conditions combined to beat the Raith ‘keeper.

Hearts confident passing in the opening stages suggested another hammering could be on the cards, but Raith soon got stuck in, the likes of Liam Fox and Jason Thomson putting in heavy ball winning challenges to ensure their side weathered the early storm.

The longer the first half wore on, the more solid Rovers became, while Hearts simply got more frustrated at the lack of space and time being afforded to them by the Kirkcaldy side.

Ozturk went close again with a free-kick from distance, and McGurn held a low drive from El Hassnaoui, but that was the sum of the home side’s efforts on goal before the break.

Raith’s good defensive work came at the expense of an attacking threat, but Paul Watson landing a looping header on top of the net on the half hour was a sign that they could trouble the home defence.

After the break, Rovers continued to contain the home side, who used all three subs in a failed attempt to find a spark, leaving Grant Murray’s men to pick up the scent of an unlikely point.

Hearts were already on edge when Adam Eckersely picked up an injury to leave them down to 10 men for the final five minutes, and having held back most of the game, Rovers poured bodies forward.

Calum Elliot saw a header saved by Neil Alexander, but the chance they’d waited all game for arrived on 88 minutes as sub Mark Stewart found space in the box but his shot on the turn was too weak to trouble the Hearts ‘keeper.

A minute later, Alexander’s sliced clearance presented Liam Fox with an open goal from 45 yards. The midfielder struck the ball well but the ‘keeper recovered his positioning to make an acrobatic save.

The last chance fell to Ryan Conroy in injury time but after some pinball in the Hearts box, the Raith sub blasted a left foot shot over the bar from 20 yards to let the league leaders off the hook.

It was a more encouraging performance from Raith, but the bottom line is that they are now six league games without a win. More efforts like this should ensure that this run is ended sooner rather than later.

Hearts: Alexander, McGhee, McKay, Ozturk, Eckersley, King, Buaben, Gomis, Nicholson (Holt 61), El Hassnaoui (Keatings 53), Walker (Buchanan 78). Not used: McHattie, Pallardo Gonzalez, Gallacher, McKirdy.

Booked: Gomis.

Raith Rovers: McGurn, Thomson, Perry, Watson, McKeown, McKay (Stewart 67), Moon (Conroy 79), Fox, Anderson, Elliot, Scott. Not used: Hill, Callachan, Vaughan, Nade, Laidlaw.

Referee: Crawford Allan

Attendance: 16,372