Game 4: Hearts 5-0 Cowdenbeath (Tynecastle Park, Edinburgh – 24.7.2018)
One day in June, while looking for places with cheap flights from Belfast for late July, I hit upon the idea of going to Edinburgh. I’d never been to Scotland’s capital before (despite spending the previous two and a half years working in an English academy named after it) so it definitely appealed. A quick check of the football fixtures confirmed it and I booked the flights later that evening!
I actually had a choice of two matches, the wonderfully-named lower league side Spartans taking on Kilmarnock, but really there was no contest, Hearts v Cowdenbeath it was.
I never really had much of an interest in Scottish football when I was younger, but I’ve developed a bit of a soft spot for Hearts in recent years, partly through a former colleague who is a big fan and latterly through their signing of a number of Northern Ireland internationals.
So to the day of the game, after a pre-match drink in the Tynecastle Arms, I made the short walk to the ground. The fans gathered outside were expecting a pretty comprehensive victory, with six, seven and even ten being mentioned as potential margins of victory. You see, Hearts really needed a win and a big one at that because they were staring down the barrel of an embarrassing early exit from the Betfred Cup, after being deducted two points as a result of fielding an ineligible player in their opening game and then only squeezing past Raith Rovers on penalties a couple of days earlier.
Unfortunately for the expectant home fans, the first half was a bit of a slog. Cowdenbeath sat very deep and Hearts were unable to get in behind them. Despite manager Craig Levein using his programme notes to emphasise the positive effect the new pitch would have on his team’s style of play, his players made little use of it in the opening 45 minutes, regularly launching aimless cross-field balls and when they did get in a crossing position either failing to beat the first man, or sending the ball over everyone in the middle without finding a target. Cowdenbeath going down to ten men, for a nasty tackle in the centre circle, just seemed to increase their defensive resolve.
Fortunately, the second half was a different story as from the moment Steven MacLean scored the opener, there was no question that Hearts would win, and win well. Speaking as a Northern Ireland fan, I was sad to see Kyle Lafferty go off after a rather ineffectual display, but his replacement Uche Ikpeazu led the line much better and soon scored an excellent second goal.
There were two goals inside three minutes as Peter Haring added a third with a header from a corner before Steven Naismith converted a penalty. Michael Smith, another NI international added the fifth before the end.
So, all-in-all an enjoyable first match in Scotland. Atmosphere was a bit lacking due to the ground being less than half-full and the competition not being the most exciting for fans. I get the feeling that the Betfred Cup group stage isn’t well-liked, competitive games coming early on when teams are trying to integrate new signings rarely are.