CLAMOUR for John Sutton and Gordon Smith to start together in the Hearts attack has increased since Sunday’s Scottish Cup exit at Easter Road. Today, manager John McGlynn explained his reasons for leaving both strikers out of his team for much of the season.
McGlynn told the Evening News that he selects players he feels are best suited to the task in hand, although he conceded it is a “disaster” that the cup holders are now out of the competition. In his view, those currently in the starting XI are the best available. Sutton and Smith have been left on the substitutes’ bench for weeks with fans calling for their inclusion as Hearts managed only two goals in their last six outings. Smith has toiled even to leave the technical area, with only two sub appearances to his name this season. McGlynn finds himself under a degree of pressure after a mediocre start to life as Hearts manager. The club sit ninth in the SPL, seven points better off than bottom club Dundee and out of the Scottish Cup. He has coped under near-impossible circumstances given Hearts’ well-documented financial troubles and has guided them to the semi-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup.
Nonetheless, many supporters are demanding answers on why he is not utilising certain players more. Calls for Sutton and Smith are intensifying and the manager hears them. He offered what he feels is straightforward reasoning behind the exclusion of both players. “It’s quite simple. If I thought they were better than the players I had, they would play,” said McGlynn.
“At the end of the day, the manager will lose his job if he doesn’t get results. If I thought they were better, I would want to put them in the team because they would give me better results and I would have more chance of staying in my job. I’m not trying to shoot myself in the foot by not playing players, it’s as simple as that. We’re picking what we feel is the best team to win a football match.”
Ryan Stevenson and Callum Paterson, the latter still only 18, have both taken turns of playing as a lone striker this season with little success. The bluntness of Hearts’ attack was evident against Hibs as the Tynecastle side controlled periods of the match but could not find a goal to help them defend their Scottish Cup. David Wotherspoon’s shot took an unfortunate deflection off Marius Zaliukas six minutes from full-time to send Hibs into the fifth round.
“It’s a disaster to be out and we’re gutted to be out, but there was nothing in the game and Hibs are supposed to be flying,” stated McGlynn. “We more than matched them, so that’s reassuring. I can’t get away from the disappointment that we feel and we are hurting, but there are some positives to take from the match. We had younger players on the pitch gaining experience and they will be better for it.
“My message for supporters is exactly that, we are all hurting. We can apologise that we didn’t win the game but it was was never going to be a walk in the park. I’m sure the fans realised that. I think they could see that the players put the effort in. We couldn’t point the finger at anyone in that regard.
“Our defence was very solid and didn’t put a foot wrong. We had a number of players who did fairly well but still lost the game. It was a fortunate goal. Hibs seem to be getting the breaks this season. It’s unfortuante for us that a flukey goal denied us the opportunity to take them back to Tynecastle for a replay.”
On the positive side, Sunday’s match offered further evidence that 19-year-old Jamie Walker is continuing to develop steadily at senior level for Hearts. The kid from Wester Hailes looked composed and confident on the right of midfield in his fourth consecutive start and his Edinburgh derby debut. He is one of several offering McGlynn encouragement during a taxing period in the manager’s own career.
“Jamie has worked a lot harder recently,” said McGlynn. “Darren Murray worked with him on an individual thing to give him a wee kick up the backside. So far, he seems to have responded. He still has to recognise what you’re good at and what you have to do to play in the first team and stay there.
“One swallow doesn’t make a summer, he’s got to continue this. He can’t just do it over a short period if he wants to play in the team for longer. He’s very similar to a number of young boys over the years. It’s whether they pick it up. Has the switch gone on? Jamie certainly has the ability. It’s all the other things that come with it.
“He’s got to recognise and say to himself ‘I’ve worked hard to get there, I’ve got to continue to work hard to stay there or work even harder’. That’s what we’re looking for him to do. We want him thinking, ‘this is good, I need to continue this and I’m not going to let my standards drop’. If he does that he could have a bright future, but he can’t be going back to the bad old ways, if you want to call it that.
“We were reasonably pleased with him on Sunday. It’s taking the bull by the horns and doing the same as Arvydas Novikovas did on the other wing to a certain extent. We need to try and create as big a threat on both sides of the park. Jamie’s gaining valuable experience and he’s developing.
“The thing about being a young football player coming through is that you have to take your opportunities when they come along, and it’s a big advantage if you play in a winning team. It’s not necessarily everything, but it does help when you play in a winning side.
“It helps the young boys to keep playing, get more experience and become more familiar with the game. That allows them to get better and that’s probably where a lot of them are at. We’re quite a young side and football is a squad game. Within a season, players will have times when they’re doing very well and other times when they aren’t doing so well. If there is a time when some players are doing well when others are not doing well, then you might get a chance to play. Then you’ve got to take that chance. That’s basically what it’s about.
“Our young guys have done well when maybe one or two others in the first team have dipped a little. That’s given them an opportunity to get into the team. I’m sure it will happen in the opposite direction for some of them as the season goes on.”