Hearts stumble as Robson moves into pole position

Hibernian 2 Heart of Midlothian 0
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The Independent Football

Sir Bobby Robson, 72, remains the leading candidate. Claudio Ranieri is out of contention because of his salary requirements and because the Hearts' owner, Vladimir Romanov, did not feel an affinity with the Italian after talks last week. The job appears to be Robson's if he wants it, possibly in a caretaker role at first before a move to become the director of football with a younger coach working under him.

"Sir Bobby Robson is a quality manager with a superb track record. It would fantastic if someone like Sir Bobby could come and join us at the club," Phil Anderton, the Hearts chief executive, said yesterday. "But we won't be commenting on speculation."

A club source says that Ranieri wanted a seven-figure deal. Hearts are prepared to pay well, but want a wage structure that increases exponentially once success has been achieved, not before.

Finishing third and gaining access to the Uefa Cup is Hearts' "minimum requirement," Anderton said. "If we can manage second, or even first, that would be outstanding."

Ottmar Hitzfeld, Kevin Keegan and up to 16 others have been considered and either discounted or put on a list of back-ups. If any of them saw Saturday's game, they would have struggled to equate what happened on the pitch with Hearts' deserved reputation for excellence since July.

Hibernian merited this victory. But make no mistake, there is a palpable sense of worry permeating the Hearts players. Edgar Jankauskaus was silly to be sent off for a second yellow card after an hour with the score at 0-0. With a firmer hand on the tiller than that of the likeable but unimposing interim manager, John McGlynn, that might have been avoided.

And when Hearts' Scotland goalkeeper, Craig Gordon, said after match that the Hearts players "didn't even turn up", the obvious question was "Why?".

He provided no illuminating answer, although perhaps he had already done that last week in his column on the club's website, where he said that George Burley's shock departure had "totally deflated the team."

It is no surprise that Chelsea want an informal alliance to tap into Hibs' excellent development programme. Talks are ongoing.

The average age of Tony Mowbray's side on Saturday was 23, and seven of the players were 22 or under. Derek Riordan was particularly impressive. The goals, a tap-in from Guillaume Beuzelin and a neat finish from Garry O'Connor, arrived within two minutes of each other, 15 minutes after Jankauskas's dismissal.

After four straight wins, Hibs now lie four points from the SPL summit. Mowbray has a good young side who should challenge for top-three honours.

Between Jankauskas going off and Hibs scoring, Hearts had just been holding on. Something similar is happening in the Tynecastle boardroom. The sooner a manager is installed, the better Hearts' hopes of getting back on track.

Goals: Beuzelin 78 (1-0); O'Connor 80 (2-0).

Hibernian (4-4-2): Malkowski; Caldwell, Hogg (Smith, 51), Rudge, Murphy; Brown, Beuzelin, Thomson, Stewart (Sproule, 67); O'Connor, Riordan (Shiels, 84). Substitutes not used: Simon Brown (gk), Fletcher, Glass, Morrow.

Heart of Midlothian (4-1-3-2): Gordon; Neilson, Pressley, Webster, Fyssas; Brellier (Wallace 61); Camazzola, Hartley, Skacel; Pospisil (Elliot, 83), Jankauskas. Substitutes not used: Banks (gk), McAllister, Simmons, Mikoliunas, Tall.

Referee: John Underhill.

Booked: Hearts Brellier, Fyssas, Camazzola, Elliot. Sent off: Hearts Jankauskas.

Man of the match: Riordan.

Attendance: 17,180.