Tuesday night against Hibs reflected the last two seasons, started well, created a few chances, took one, and sat off the pace. Nature hates a vacuum, Hibs stepped up, began passing, then passed through us, and deservedly equalised. We were an organisational shambles for most of the second half, and the turning point was the sending off of Handling. I sit almost centre line of Bar72, the lunge on Templeton occurred immediately to my front. The winger cut inside and away, when Handling scythed in from behind, the flat of his boot struck the inside of Templeton's ankle and his trailing leg completed a scissor tackle. A deserved sending off every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
I returned to my vehicle and BBC Radio Scotland informed me the sending off decision was, "controversial". Chico interviewed Alan Stubbs and he was willingly led through, 'game's turning point', 'Rangers were the beneficiaries', and, 'most were expecting a yellow card'. The reporting line was established and the next day's reports reinforced growing controversy. The boys in maroon share the same toon with the Hibees and apparently, a similar simmering sense of injustice. It's down at Tynecastle, they conspire.
Big Craig saw the window of opportunity and pushed Robbie Neilson into a room with the Daily Record's doyen of objectivity, Anthony Haggerty. Robbie unfolded and viewed the back of the fag packet provided by Levein and pronounced, "we've prepared for 10 v 11 ahead of the Rangers clash as we know what it's like at Ibrox". Of course, Anthony's incisive journalistic instincts came to the fore and he reminded Robbie (and big Craig with his ear to the door) that Hearts have been fined the maximum amount in seven out of the last ten seasons for their continuing appalling disciplinary record, didn't he? Well, no. Haggerty became a willing participant in piling pressure on to Sunday's referee, Craig Thomson.
Glorious Hearts are an interesting prospect, a team of youths full of enthusiasm was managed last season by Gary Locke, to inevitable relegation after a 15 point imposed penalty for administration. Results were improving, but continuity was stymied by the Budge takeover. Levein was awarded Director of Football status and he reacquainted himself with two old central midfield favourites, Prince Bauben and Gomis. Craig is partial to a big unit up front and strapping Swede, Osman Sow is in place. Add two former Gers, namely Neil Alexander and Danny Wilson and we must conclude that Hearts have a pretty decent spine to the team. I attended the Youth cup final at the end of last season and was impressed with Neilson's team set-up, bags of pace in wide areas continually turning the young Bears. Levein prefers to keep his sides narrow, I wonder if Neilson will win out? Reports from last weekend's 0-4 victory for Hearts at McDairmid Park, seem to suggest the midfield duo are getting it wide and Sow is the beneficiary.
How will we set up and how will we play?
The last two seasons have seen a pattern emerging of reliance on long diagonals and hopeful support on the secondary ball. We appear incapable of sustaining a high line and pinning the opposition back in their final third. Handling's ordering from the field was NOT the turning point, it was Templeton's introduction that provided the penetrating runs that culminated in the correct refereeing decision. Thus, let's start with the wonderfully forenamed, 'David Cooper'. I would like to see MacLeod and Black as the midfield two. Leave the left flank to Wallace and Templeton. The right side needs more energy, perhaps Aird and Peralta? I would go with Boyd and Law as the front two, keep Kenny's energy for the last 20-30 minutes.
My preferred team : Bell, Peralta, Zaliukas, McGregor, Wallace, Templeton, Black, MacLeod, Aird, Law, and Boyd.
I know the manager will not agree with my selection. In particular, big Jig must be shoehorned into the team. However, I feel we must sort out the midfield to progress.
I am going for a 'controversial' 2-1 victory for the Bears.
Please feel free to comment on the forum thread for 26th of foot's match preview here - Rangers vs Hearts, Sunday 10th August kick-off 1.30pm.