Saints v Hearts preview
By Stuart Gillespie
Updated Tuesday, 28th December 2010
It's been an interesting year to say the least if you're a Saints fan, but tomorrow night it all comes to an end when we take on Hearts at Greenhill Road.
There have been some ups, some downs, and lots of change at our beloved club over the past 12 months, but in the end we're in the same situation we have been for the last few seasons. We're still near the bottom of the table, still battling relegation and there is already next to no chance of us being comfortable before the SPL splits later this season.
But enough of the retrospective and the talk of the future, lets concentrate on the here and now. Our home record has improved a bit this year as we've managed more than one win, but it is still far from good enough. Tomorrow night is our last chance to edge it a bit closer to respectability, but it will not be easy. No longer are Hearts the comedy outfit that stumbled from one crisis to another, with Mad Vlad Romanov's antics giving us all a good chuckle. Instead, they look like the Hearts side of a decade ago - the last time Jim Jeffries was manager.
However, while they are on a good run, they are beatable - as we have proven. Hearts were the first team to lose a league game at Greenhill Road when we defeated them last season and they only managed a draw when they returned in April. So, in fact, we're facing a side that has never won at our ground - and a side we managed to beat in the League Cup semi-final in one of those ups I mentioned earlier. Mind you, what happened after that was one of the major downs in the club's history.
Danny Lennon will probably be tempted to stick with the team from Sunday's game for this one, seeing as they picked up three points. However, there's a fair chance Craig Dargo won't start. He's only just back from injury and asking him to start another game so soon could be pushing things. It's a shame, as he's a great player for us. If he doesn't make it, Paul McQuade could start or Paul McGowan could be pushed up front.
Aside from that, don't expect too many chances - because there aren't really that many we can make. I'd love to see Aaron Mooy being given a run in midfield, but there's no need to change things at the moment. And with Garry Brady, Steven Robb, Nick Hegarty, Lee Mair and Hugh Murray all still missing, there isn't really a lot else we can do. There's a fair chance this will be the last game Robb will miss as his contract expires on Friday night and I can't see it being renewed.
As mentioned earlier, Hearts have been trundling along quite happily under Jim Jeffries and are in with a shot of splitting the Old Firm. They managed that back in the 2005/06 season and is it any coincidence that they once again have a Scottish manager at the helm? Romanov has been letting Jeffries get in with things for the most part and hopefully - for those of us who want a strong Hearts team to challenge the Old Firm - he has now realised that this isn't the worst approach. Just because you're good in Football Manager doesn't mean you'll be up to scratch in real life.
Of course, there was talk of some Mad Vlad meddling earlier in the season when Rudi Skacel returned to the club, although I can't work out why. He was pretty good for the Jambos the year they finished second and he promptly left under a cloud. I'd have hardly thought he was Romanov's favourite person so he's one of the last players I'd have expected to be foisted upon Jeffries. Besides, he's returned to his old goal scoring form, with his tally being helped rather by a hat-trick against us at Tynecastle in October.
Someone else who has been rattling in the goals is Kevin Kyle. After leaving Killie in the summer to be reunited with Jeffries, he has provided Hearts with the goalscoring they have been crying out for in the past few years. If he could solve his injury and fitness problems he'd probably be playing at a much higher level, but Hearts fans won't be bothered. He bullies defenders - just ask John Potter about that - and has put that disaster in the Faroes well behind him.
A rather different proposition is David Templeton, who has been in exceptional form this season. Hearts picked him up from Stenhousemuir in 2007 but you almost wonder if Jeffries found him in a cupboard when he returned to Gorgie as it's only this year that he has started to feature. However, he's certainly been making up for lost time by putting in a string of excellent performances. It is only a matter of time until he gets a Scotland call and the media are linking him with a switch to one of the Old Firm.
Of course, there are plenty of other players to watch out for. Stephen Elliott and Calum Elliot are tricky to deal with up front, Ian Black likes to kick folk in midfield and Darren Barr, Ismael Bouzid and Marius Zaliukas - who seems to have resolved his contract dispute - are pretty solid in midfield. It won't be easy, but then watching Saints rarely is - whatever the year!