The festive period really has been a lot busier than I expected it would be. After visiting four grounds in the space of a week, tonight made it five. With a game to come tomorrow and another on Monday, there is no sign of any let up yet.
Tonight’s game was a trip to Tynecastle to watch one of the games of the season, on paper at least. Hearts v Aberdeen is a meeting of two sides fancied to be in the race for second position.
Hearts have been on a bit of a rollercoaster in recent times.
Over ten years ago the club was bought by Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov, who promised big things.
His time at the club could easily fill a book. Cup wins, Champions League qualification and big signings were delivered, almongside less desirable events. Ultimately the club would find itself in administration having overstretched itself financially.
Thankfully, the fans rallied to save their club. The Foundation of Hearts brought fans together under one umbrella, and with the help of businesswoman Ann Budge, they were able to put together a deal that was satisfactory to creditors. That deal means that the fans now own a sizeable (and increasing) chunk of their club.
Budge, has been a breath of fresh air in her short time in charge. She comes from outwith the Scottish football bubble, and has applied her business nous to the club.
She has (mostly) said the right things in the eyes of fans, and it seems that she is determined to do the best she can for Hearts, while contributing her voice to the debate on the wider issues in Scottish football.
One of the first big decisions she made was to appoint Craig Levein as Director of Football and Robbie Neilson as Head Coach after the club were relegated to the Championship. That raised eyebrows at the time, however it proved to be a master stroke. Hearts dominated what was considered by many to be the strongest Championship ever.
They followed that up with a strong season last year on their return to the top flight, and it was no surprise when clubs started to notice the work that Neilson had done. He earned a move to MK Dons at the start of December.
His replacement raised eyebrows again amongst ‘football people’. Hearts plumped for Ian Cathro, a 30 year old coach with experience of coaching across the UK and in Europe, with clubs as big as Newcastle and Valencia.
His appointment was probably much more controversial than it should have been.
His sins included a lack of playing experience, being able to plan a good training session and knowing how to use a laptop.
Of course, there were legitimate concerns raised, but some observers were left feeling that the opposition served as proof of the closed shop, old boys club that holds back Scottish football.
After a challenging start, a 4-0 win over Kilmarnock last time out seemed to suggest they were back on the right track.
Either way, after less than a month in the job, it is surely too soon to judge the manager.
Tynecastle is probably the only one of the 42 grounds in Scotland which regularly sells out. Perhaps having a stake in the club has galvanised the support and encouraged them to get behind the team, or maybe it’s the club’s recent success which has seen the fans turning out in numbers. Either way, it reflects well on the club.
They have also started work on an extension to their old main stand, which will allow them to take in more fans, and will put Tynecastle on a par with the very best of Scotland’s football stadiums.
The atmosphere was electric tonight. The stands are close to the pitch and every tackle, shot and contentious decision was met with a roar from the crowd.
There are few clubs in Scotland which can match the noise at Tynecastle, on a per head basis at least, with the fans packed in to the steep stands making a tremendous noise to back their team. The noisy, and large Aberdeen support helped by adding their voices to the occasion.
Off the pitch, tonight’s game was a great advert for Scottish football. Passionate fans getting behind their team, without taking things too far. It was great.
On the pitch though, things were slightly disappointing.
As is often the case in big games, it was a cagey affair. Neither side looked particularly confident in the early exchanges, and Hearts in particular looked extremely nervy. Unforced errors and errant passes did little to impress the masses in the stands.
There were no goals scored in the first half, and very few chances created. For a game that promised so much, it was a disappointing start.
The fans sitting near me were particularly disappointed. A handful booed their team, but they were quickly, and not so politely, told to be quiet by their fellow fans.
The second half continued in a similar fashion. As with the first 45, Aberdeen looked the more likely to score.
After periods of pressure, the Dons finally made the breakthrough when Jonny Hayes got on the end of a driven cross.
The goal was probably deserved, on the balance of play, and it sparked wild celebrations in the away end behind the goal he had scored in.
For a team that needed to score, Hearts created surprisingly few chances. Beyond the occasional half chance, there was not a lot to excite the Jambos.
Ian Cathro will have time during the winter break to get his ideas across to his team. He is unlikely to be phased by the pressure so early, but he will know that performances will have to improve quickly if he is to win over the fans that doubt him.
Either way, as a club Hearts are in a strong position. They have a full stadium most weeks, and know that their fans are absolutely committed to a project which many of them have literally bought in to.
While tonight might have been disappointing, with the right people in charge of the club, it seems they have a foundation in place which will allow them to keep growing and improving.
Hearts 0 Aberdeen 1