I’ve got right into the SPFL Under 20 League this season; there’s been little else on midweek in Scotland through the winter.
The games are usually played at decent venues and there tends to be a couple of recognised first teamers in most Under 20 sides as well as the obvious benefit of seeing any up and coming youngsters in action.
This game had been scheduled for Newtongrange Star’s Victoria Park originally, but was switched at a days’ notice due to the condition of the pitch there.
Hearts’ Academy base at Heriot-Watt University’s Riccarton Campus was the alternative venue, but the recent wet weather meant that even the well maintained grass pitch here was subject to an afternoon pitch inspection.
The grass pitch borders a full sized 3G facility, with both areas fenced off and collectively known as the John Brydson Arena. Several groups of Hearts youth players trained on the artificial pitch as their older Under 20 clubmates competed ‘next door’.
The word ‘arena’ might imply that there might be spectator facilities, but it’s a set-up geared for player participation rather than the watching public. If it rains here you’ll get wet, and typically the rain tipped down for a large part of the evening.
Not that the weather had an adverse impact on the game, which was very competitive and played at a high tempo throughout.
Hamilton started well, pinning Hearts back early on, only to concede the first goal after ten minutes, Angus Beith striking low past Accies keeper Blair Currie.
Hearts rallied and in my opinion dominated much of the rest of the first half. While Accies played a direct game often lumping the ball into the channels, Hearts passed it nicely, with the King brothers – Adam and Billy – both seeing a lot of the ball.
The first goal of the evening was against the run of play, and the same applied to the second, an equaliser for Accies put away by the impressive Andy Ryan, who drifted out to the back post at a free kick and had acres of space to fire a shot across Ridgers when the ball broke his way.
Sheltering from the rain in the away dugout, I managed to catch up with Accies’ long serving secretary Scott Struthers, during the half time interval and it was a good opportunity to chew the fat on recent events in the Scottish Championship, where the Accies first team and my own club Livingston are rivals.
Scott also happened to mention he’d seen his 100th game of the season a few days previously – a very impressive tally.
When we got back to the action, Hearts restored their lead within five minutes. One player who really caught my eye when I last saw Hearts at this level (a 5-1 win over Partick Thistle in November) was Gary Oliver and the Hearts No 9 demonstrated his goalscoring ability with a well taken strike from the edge of the box.
The pace of the game didn’t let up in the second half, which saw Accies grow stronger as time progressed. A lot has been said about the heavy schedule that Hearts’ young players have got between these games and their first team involvement, and they did look tired in the closing stages.
The Accies side was a bit bigger and stronger and as the game came to a close they used that advantage to dictate the game.
Ryan won a penalty after being fouled by McGhee and the spot kick was well taken by Greg Docherty to put Accies back level with twenty minutes left.
Ridgers made a brilliant save shortly afterwards to keep the game level, but Accies looked well capable of finding a winner, and Ryan supplied it with seven minutes to play, a well controlled shot low into the corner.
Heart of Midlothian: Ridgers, L Smith, Ford, K Wilson (Page), McGhee, A King, Simpson (Craigie), B King, Oliver (Scott), Buchanan, Beith. Not used: Hamilton
Hamilton Academical: Currie, Watson, McMann, El Zubaidi, Kilday, Routledge (Reilly), George (McGrath), McKinnon, Ryan, Brophy (Armstrong), Docherty. Not used Johnston, D Smith, Harrison
Ref: Gavin Duncan
Scoring: 1-0 Beith (10), 1-1 Ryan (38), 2-1 Oliver (50), 2-2 Docherty (70 pen), 2-3 Ryan (83)
Attendance: 150 est
Admission: donation (£2)
Programme: none, teamsheet available
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