Glory day as Hearts sizzle their way into Europe
It was a glorious afternoon as Hearts produced the performance of the season to cruise past Dundee United and rise into the UEFA Europa League next season in securing a third place finish.
Hearts had learned before the match that they would play European football next season, after Aberdeen went down 2-1 at Ibrox. However both sides were desperate to secure that third spot in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League and this was the chance.
The Tynecastle side made a lively start with Lee Wallace and Bruno Aguiar looking particularly up for the task ahead. Aguiar's corner inside the opening five minutes found David Obua in the box, his header saved by Zaluska.
The Jambos however did not have to wait long for the opener. Lee Wallace left united defender Sean Dillon behind as he skipped into the box and through the tackles and in a moment of individual brilliance, the Hearts Player of the Year, buried the ball low into Zaluska's bottom left hand corner. It was just the starts Hearts had needed to settle the nerves.
From the re-start Dundee United tried to push Hearts further up the field. Marian Kello was on form in the Hearts goal and in particular made a great save as David Goodwillie wound up the shot from close range.
There was only one thing in mind for the boys in maroon though and that was more goals. Hearts second goal of the afternoon came on 25 minutes, courtesy of top goal scorer Bruno Aguiar. Neat work down the right hand side form Calum Elliot saw him nick the ball into the path of the Portuguese playmaker who hooked the ball past Zaluska. The Jambos were cruising.
David Robertson gave Hearts a warning soon after when he controlled the ball well in the box and created an opportunity for himself to shoot, the end product however rocketed over the bar. David Goodwillie also keen to get in on the score sheet, had a long range effort which sailed high over the bar and caused Kello little concern.
Hearts were firmly in control going into the interval but you couldn't help but think that this match was far from over.
No changes at half time meant more of the same from both sides. Hearts first effort of the second came after a corner was headed down by Eggert Jonsson into the path of Calum Elliott whose overhead kick attempt rebounded off the defending pack.
Dundee United threw on their last two substitutes on the hour mark in a bid to take the game to Hearts. Whilst they did earn their fair share of corners Kello looked comfortable. The Jambos defended staunchly, as unit with everybody fighting for the three points.
Elliot could have put the game beyond united on 70 minutes when a sublime ball over the top of the defenders from Bruno Aguiar saw Calum through on goal and unfortunately blast his shot wide.
Kello was called into action twice in quick succession with an acrobatic save to deny Shala and then a great catch from a sizzling Gomis shot.
Hearts weren't done though and grabbed the third on 78 minutes. Palazuelos clipped the ball into Elliot who was brought down in the box; Hearts were promptly awarded a penalty. Eggert Jonsson stepped up to take the kick and calmly slotted the ball past Zaluska.
That was it - the three goal cushion signalled Hearts move to shut up shop. Dundee United still pressed but there was no way through Hearts defence.
In a poignant moment in injury time Christos Karipidis was substituted to rapturous applause in his last game at Tynecastle before he departs to Cyprus to be closer to his family.
As referee Brian Winter blew the full time whistle the dreams and aspirations in what has been an extraordinary season were realised.
In one season Csaba Laszlo has galvanised this team and secured the Jambos status as the third force in Scottish football.
Europa League here we come!
And thank the Lord for that.
Hearts: Kello; Neilson, Karipidis (Thomson 90), Jonsson, Wallace; Obua, Stewart (Nade 82), Mrowiec, Palazuelos; Aguiar (Templeton 87); Elliot. Subs not used: Balogh; Tullberg, Stewart, Novikovas.
Dundee United: Zaluska; Dillon (Caddis 29), Kenneth, Wilkie, Dixon; Robertson (Swanson 62), Bauben, Gomis, Conway; Sandaza (Shala 62), Goodwillie. Subs not used: McGovern, Scott Robertson, Grainger, Dods. Booked: Sandaza, Kenneth, Swanson.
Referee: Brian Winter
Top man: Marian Kello
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