Friday, 5 August 2022

Hearts B 1-1 Cowdenbeath

Hearts B 1-1 Cowdenbeath
Lowland League
Wednesday 3rd August 2022

For my last night in Scotland for a while, there was no other place I was going to visit other than Ferguson Park for this Lowland League game between Hearts B and Cowdenbeath.

Whilst the emphatic opening day win over Berwick Rangers was a pleasure to watch, the lads will reflect on this game with frustration because they couldn’t break down dogged opponents who were happy to just sit back and keep their shape - playing on the break whenever the opportunity arose.

Both goals were scored just after half-time as Cowdenbeath’s trialist bagged the opener which was quickly cancelled out thanks to a Connor Smith penalty.

An early goal, however, was needed and had Hearts been awarded a spot-kick in the ninth minute when Finlay Pollock was blatantly bundled over inside the box, having cut inside from the left, who knows what the scoreline might have been? He could have perhaps got a shot away prior to contact being made but, regardless, it was a stonewall penalty - only not in the eyes of the referee who saw nothing wrong and waved play on. A terrible decision!

Taking an early lead would have forced Cowdenbeath to come out and be more adventurous but it became one of those long, tedious and frustrating nights for the youngsters in maroon shirts.

Up to half-time, aside from two chances in quick succession when the visitors hit the upright following a long-throw and put the rebound from the second phase of play over the upright, the Jambos controlled things. They had all the possession/territory; albeit without breaking between the lines too much or creating a vast amount infront of goal.

Luke Rathie did go close when he connected with a header from Connor Smith’s corner only for a defender on the line to make a clearance, before Mac Tait enjoyed what was the best opening of the first 45 minutes when he made a brilliant run through the middle. It split the defence, he was totally unmarked AND latched onto Lewis Neilson’s through ball, but Cowdenbeath’s ‘keeper got down low to his right to pull off a good save from his eventual shot.

If truth be told, the first half was sometimes tepid with not that much to shout about so it’s ironic that the game’s main talking points all unfolded within a 5-10 minute period immediately after the re-start.

It began when Darge was booked for a foul close to the touchline (the type of incident where you don’t actually mind picking up a yellow card), yet disaster struck from the resulting set-piece. The ball was floated towards Cowdenbeath’s big target man who made a glancing connection with the ball ricocheting off the post before it was converted at point-blank range. There was no reaction by anyone in a Hearts shirt to the initial header and this is an area where improvement is needed.

To the lads’ credit, they regrouped and responded to going behind in the best way possible by quickly forcing an equaliser.

A penalty was awarded (by the linesman) because the visiting ‘keeper flattened Makenzie Kirk in his attempts to punch away a cross whilst a defender was also man-handling Smith. After a delay of three or four minutes, Smith sent the ‘keeper the wrong way to make it 1-1, though the fans who’d travelled from Fife didn’t like it whatsoever!

More drama followed before the game resumed as ‘Naisy’ shouted for the referee to ‘get on with the f***king game’ when he was being harassed by Cowdenbeath’s complaining players. Unable to accept the direct criticism, the official brandished a red card and banished the boss to the stand (which was about five yards away) and as ‘Naisy’ said himself in his post-match interview, he needs to learn how to not show his frustration in similar scenarios.

The rest of the game was played out amidst a nasty edge to the atmosphere as the numpty element in Cowdenbeath’s fanbase, bizarrely positioned in the corner at the end towards which Hearts were attacking, decided to be abusive and goad the youngsters at every opportunity to try and provoke a reaction. It was all a bit pathetic from them.

The Jambos switched to a 4-4-2 formation with Murray Thomas replacing Bobby McLuckie (and playing on the touchline right next to the idiots) whilst Jaden Ferguson (for Harry Gordon) and Callum Sandilands (for Kirk) were later thrown on.

By now, there was a much better intensity than in the first half, but Cowdenbeath continued to soak up pressure as they sought to pick up their first point of the season. Similar to the final 30 minutes at Spartans last week, the lads controlled the tempo, had all the possession and had all the territory, but couldn’t carve out much in terms of clear-cut chances.

Kirk saw a low drive saved by the ‘keeper before he was replaced and Sanidlands (playing as a forward) almost made an immediate impact when he got on the end of a cross and saw his header go straight at the ‘keeper; something either side would probably have resulted in a goal. 

A series of corners didn’t lead to anything of note although there was one more chance in the dying minutes for the Jambos when Pollock crept in at the back-post and met a finely floated ball forward by Neilson only to also be thwarted by the ‘keeper.

No winner materialised as four minutes of injury-time were played; it should have been more (because four minutes were squandered on the penalty incident alone) but nobody was too surprised given some of the referee’s other decisions, and when the whistle was blown it brought an end to a frustrating night.

A point was okay and a step in the right direction after back-to-back defeats but it ought to have been three!


As already said, making an early breakthrough was crucial and had it happened then I believe Hearts would have won quite comfortably. The quality is certainly there within the team to win matches (as has been proved already) it’s just finding a way to break past resilient opponents who are happy to ‘defend, defend, defend’.

In fairness, the referee made an abysmal call when Finlay Pollock was fouled inside the area and that MIGHT have been the key to opening up Cowdenbeath, but a lot of the football in the remainder of the first half was side-to-side and played in non-dangerous areas infront of them. It only served to suit the visitors and barring a few balls/runs; one from Luke Rathie to Pollock (the shot was blocked) and one from Lewis Neilson to Mac Tait (‘keeper saved it), there wasn’t too much football that was really piercing. Also, when the ball was switched sometimes, it took three or four touches to get it from ‘A to B’ and it needs to be quicker if space is going to be opened up and exploited.

The second half was much better in terms of intensity/desire and ‘raising the tempo’ and the immediate response to going behind was excellent despite the fact that after the equaliser, things went awry in the final third again.

Dealing with set-plays (including any long-throws) is a key area for improvement and it’s no surprise that Cowdenbeath’s best chances came that way.

In open play, the visitors were nullified by a strong Hearts backline who were class together. Arron Darge was good yet again (confident, nice feet and composure - even under pressure in injury-time), Lewis Neilson (my first time watching him play) left a good impression with his stature, presence and quality on the ball and Luke Rathie was solid and reliable (so much so I’d say it was his best performance of the season up to now). They were solid as a three before the formation switch.

Obviously things didn’t go to plan further forward and that’s to be figured out.

A few more observations... I didn’t realise just how much Aidan Denholm talks and encourages others during a game (that’s noted - along with the dropping back to cover any potential counter-threat at offensive set-plays). Harry Gordon and Mac Tait both had some neat touches (and I think Mac Tait will come into his own and blossom at some point) whilst Murray Thomas deserves a big credit for not rising to the bait which was being directed at him by Cowdenbeath’s clowns in the latter stages!

I won’t be at the next few games because I’m back in England now, but I may be up for the back-to-back away games at Caledonian Braves and Cumbernauld Colts in a few weeks. 

Team: Liam McFarlane, Connor Smith, Arron Darge, Mac Tait, Finlay Pollock, Aidan Denholm, Makenzie Kirk (Callum Sandilands), Harry Gordon (Murray Thomas), Lewis Neilson, Luke Rathie, Bobby McLuckie (Jaden Ferguson). Unused Subs: Harry Stone, Bailey Dall, Harvey Chisholm.

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