Jambos and Arabs serve up festive share of the spoils
When you consider some of the maulings we've suffered at the hands of Craig Levein's robust Dundee United in recent times, a goalless draw is not a bad result. Hearts were much improved from those showings, and displayed the sort of discipline and commitment we had almost forgotten after last season, and are warmly welcoming back.
Neither keeper was severely tested despite there being several scares at either end and on the balance of chances, Hearts will feel aggrieved not to have nicked something more from the first draw in this fixture since 1993. The race for the European places is certainly going to be tight.
After a moving one minute's silence - impeccably observed by both sets of supporters - for John Cummings and John Urquhart, two men who brought silverware to Tynecastle in the glory days of the 1950s and 1960s, the game got underway.
The opening fifteen minutes were inaspicious in terms of producing chances but it was literally end to end stuff. Some good marauding runs from Driver and Wallace resulted in crosses that were comfortably dealt with by United's well-organised defence, and at the other end Janos Balogh showed himself more than equal in dealng with the Arab's huge physical presence.
Much the same was true as we approached the half-hour mark, although it was just before that milestone that we had our first effort on target - Zaluska gathering well from a 'squiggly' (copyright John Rankin) Larry Kingston shot. Moments after, some neat play between Palazuelos and Wallace teed up Driver, but his shot was blocked by Wilkie.
Events were kicking off now, with Craig Levein incensed at Christian Nade's fierce tackle on Paul Dixon. Both club captains calmed the situation down, and Christian was booked by referee Willie Collum. Just after, Csaba Laszlo decided to replace Nade, who had worked hard, with David Obua. Obua's pace and technical ability would hopefully come in handy up front.
United boss Levein, who has moulded his side into a terrifically effective unit, utilising both guile and strength, was increasingly unhappy at what he felt was an unfairly robust approach from Hearts. From where we were, it merely served to mirror his own team's powerful play, which would serve to explain why the match was still deadlocked.
Hearts were inches away from taking the lead when Larry Kingston's superb low ball across the box caused mayhem, before eventually being poked behind by Lee Wilkie. David Obua's run through was checked by Zaluska, and Andy Driver's curling left-footer was deflected behind after eluding Zaluska's grasp. The half ended with Hearts in the ascendency.
It was certain that the Arabs would come back strongly in the second period, after having been on the back foot at the end of the first. That much was clear from their opening harrying of Bruno Aguiar, dispossessing him in a pack on the halfway line. However, it was the Jambos who threatened first, as Driver robbed Kovacevic and raced clear, shooting from a tight angle. Zaluska held the low effort, which was just as well, because Obua was closing in to net the rebound.
From an Aguiar corner, both Zaliukas and Berra had the chance to finish, but time was not on their side and Christophe's strike was in the side netting. We barely had time to catch our breath before Palazuelos nodded a won header to Driver, whose low cross was hammered goalwards by Kingston. It was blocked, to furious appeals of handball, but Mr Collum waved these claims away.
Karipidis rather harshly entered the referee's book for a tackle which resulted in a slightly theatrical fall from Willo Flood. Obua then did so well to dispossess Garry Kenneth, but he totally failed to control Aguiar's return ball when a better touch would have seen him clean through against Zaluska.
Andy Driver went on one of those runs we all love to watch, reminiscent of his great goal against Falkirk last month, but his slow right-foot finish was straight at Zaluska. Then Obua and Kingston combined well to set up a chance, one that was diverted away by a sea of lunging tangerine legs.
However, United are always dangerous - a well-worked corner routine ended with Daly bulleting a header that, had it found the target, would have beaten Balogh easily. Thankfully, it went just wide of the right-hand post. We were now in the last fifteen minutes, and the away team were stepping up the pressure. There was, however, absolutely no pressure on Mr Collum when Lee Wilkie rather hilariously appealed for a penalty after a wee tussle in the box.
Sub Obua pulled up with a leg complaint and was replaced by Cesnauskis. The Lithuanian winger had an immediate impact, deploying an array of tricks against Paul Dixon. Sadly, it was ineffective in producing the breakthough and both sides had to settle for a point - which was in itself no bad thing.
Hearts: Balogh; Neilson, Zaliukas, Berra, Wallace; Kingston, Karipidis, Palazuelos, Driver; Aguiar (Stewart, 76); Nade (Obua, 32, Cesnauskis, 82). Booked: Nade, Karipidis. Subs not used: MacDonald, Mole, Thomson, Jonsson.
Dundee United: Zaluska; Kenneth, Wilkie, Kovacevic, Dixon; Flood, Gomis, David Robertson (Swanson, 61), Scott Robertson, Conway; Daly. Subs not used: McGovern, Dillon, Grainger, Feeney, O'Donovan, Buaben.
Referee: Willie Collum
Top man: Christophe Berra marshalled the side well against a formidably tough opposition
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