Arbroath’s visit to Tynecastle on League Cup duty this Thursday is tantalisingly close to Hearts’ opening league encounter with St Johnstone. Some may consider the tie a hindrance to Robbie Neilson’s preparations for starting the Premiership campaign on Sunday. Jimmy Sandison believes it could be more of a help.
The former Hearts defender watched last Sunday’s final pre-season friendly with Everton as an analyst for the club’s online TV channel and marvelled at the talent on show. The Merseyside club finished comfortable 3-1 winners thanks to Romelu Lukaku’s hat-trick. Sandison feels the Arbroath match offers Hearts a chance to regain some momentum before facing St Johnstone.
“It’s probably what the players want after Sunday’s performance and result,” he said. “There was a bit of frustration as the game wore on and Hearts weren’t getting a lot of the ball. Thursday night will be the complete opposite. Hearts will be dominating and seeing a lot of the ball. They should probably do what Everton did to them on Sunday and dictate the pace of the game.
“I’d like to think you’d have the more forward-thinking players on the park against Arbroath. Billy King came on against Everton and did really well. Guys like Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson are going to get the ball and drive at the Arbroath defence, so I’d hope to see them playing. You’d like to get one or two goals on the night and really look forward to starting the league against St Johnstone on Sunday.
“If we get a really good result, a lot of positive play and a number of goals against Arbroath, Hearts should be in fine fettle for the league starting.”
Not that Everton’s visit was useless from Hearts’ perspective. Far from it. Seventeen year-old midfielder Sean McKirdy probably enjoyed the finest experience so far in his fledgling career. The game also saw recent Brazilian signing Igor Rossi debut in a new-look three-man defence.
“I’m pleased we played Everton. I’d have been disappointed if we’d played a poorer team,” said Sandison. “We played a real quality English Premier League team for our last friendly before we get into league and cup ties. The better team won, but I thought it was a good test. There were players on show like Lukaku, Gareth Barry, Phil Jagielka, John Stones and Kevin Mirallas and you have to be pleased to see that. We didn’t get lots of the ball on Sunday but we should get lots of the ball on Thursday and that should keep our fitness levels high.
“I think the majority of people will have been looking at the new guys. I thought Rossi looked comfortable. I’m not sure about his fitness, maybe that’s why Jordan McGhee was playing in a three-man defence because Alim Ozturk is coming back from a slight injury as well. I’m a great believer in young McKirdy, who I think is a real talent. I’m pleased Robbie is giving him and opportunity in beside Morgaro Gomis.”
Sandison was speaking to promote Hearts’ new free walking football programme for over-50s. Having recently reached the milestone himself, he will be taking part over the coming weeks. “I turned 50 a few weeks ago and a number of my friends talk about five-a-sides but say that can’t play because it’s too physically demanding. I get that 100 per cent.
“I still play the odd charity game but I struggle for fitness because the body struggles when you get to that age. This is five-a-sides but it’s walking pace so it might encourage guys who maybe played five-a-sides when they were younger. I’m looking forward to it because I think it will be great fun. You’ll get lots of touches of the ball and hopefully a lot of older guys will get involved to keep their fitness up.”
• Walking football for free starts at Tynecastle next month and will run every Tuesday for six weeks from 11 August. It is a non-contact version of the game which prohibits sprinting, running or jogging while the ball is in play. To register to play, email firstname.lastname@example.org and include your full name, date of birth, daytime phone number, email address and medical conditions (if applicable).