Anthony Brown: Hearts v Reds tie shows why consistency counts

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FOOTBALL managers are always banging on about a desire for consistency from their players, to the point where it becomes tiresome. But the truth is being consistently good is the main quality that sets the top players apart from the rest.

There are countless players who can, when the mood takes them, skin a full-back easily or play a Beckham-esque pass. Their talent is not in question. But the ones who will make it to the top are those who can produce regularly without having several average games in between. There is nothing more frustrating for a manager or supporters than seeing their team excel one week and then fall flat the next. It happens so often to most teams outwith those who routinely challenge for championships.

Take Hearts against Liverpool last Thursday, for example. Anyone watching who didn’t already know would have struggled to tell which side was from the English Premier League, as some Hearts players produced the type of performances which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the top flight down south. Indeed, if they could play like that every week, Hearts would win the SPL. Predictably enough – and this is no criticism of the Hearts players – they were unable to replicate that level of performance in Aberdeen. Admittedly, part of this will have been down to fatigue, but a fair element will have been due to an inability to rouse themselves for the more mundane SPL in the aftermath of a glamour European match.

The teams who enjoy success, however, are those with the mentality to treat every game the same regardless of its prestige, give or take the odd blip.

This is all down to being able to apply themselves properly; a quality which, for whatever reason, is beyond the capability of most footballers outwith the elite. Most people would agree that Dundee United, on their day, are capable of beating anyone in the SPL, yet they slipped up in a game at Kilmarnock that – on paper – they should have won. Celtic, by contrast, have players with the mentality to go out and win matches week in, week out, regardless of circumstances, and that is why they will win the league.

However, one Celtic player who lacks that ability to produce consistently is perhaps Kris Commons and that’s why Scotland manager Craig Levein is set to leave him out of his latest squad in the next few days. Commons has enjoyed a bright start to the season but had a poor campaign last time round.

However, given that his main rivals for a squad berth – Steven Naismith, James Forrest, Robert Snodgrass, Jamie Mackie, Shaun Maloney, James Morrison, Matt Phillips and Ross McCormack – have all shone over a relatively sustained period of time, how could Levein justify leaving any of them out for a player who has done well over just a handful of games?

In contrast to Commons, Don Cowie has become a squad mainstay as a result of sheer consistency. The midfielder may not be the most spectacular around, but he has maintained a consistently high level of performance at Watford and then Cardiff in the Championship. When on top of their respective games, there’s probably not much between, Cowie and, say, St Johnstone’s Murray Davidson or St Mirren’s Paul McGowan. However, Cowie has proven over time that he has a mentality which makes him less susceptible to form dips.