Gary Mackay: Bad week for Hearts cranks up the pressure for Celtic match

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WHAT a hugely disappointing week it’s been for Hearts.

WHAT a hugely disappointing week it’s been for Hearts.

The biggest sufferers are the supporters who have paid hard-earned money to go to Ayr on a Wednesday night and Perth on a Sunday morning. The fans can take getting beat if it’s clear that there’s a real desire and passion from the team but if these qualities aren’t apparent, then people get really frustrated.

I concern myself a little when players are coming out and talking unrealistically about the owner wanting us to win the league. Let’s wait until we’re able to go to places like St Johnstone and win before we talk about stuff like that. Sometimes idle talk can cause problems.

I’ve heard a few fans are already starting to lose faith in the manager but it’s far too early for that kind of chat. Having said that, although I really do take my hat off to the manager for trying to pull off this new approach, there’s a big difference from talking about playing this new style to actually achieving it. Yes, passing football is great if it works, but ultimately football is about getting results first and foremost because that’s what the paying supporters want.

If possession play is to work, you have to have pace and penetration to hurt teams in the top third of the park. As I said last week, they’ll have to play in bad weather and when people are harrying and getting in your face. There has to be a cutting edge. You can keep the ball as much as you like at a slower pace in the defensive third and the middle third but if you can’t pass with a purpose and create in the final third, which usually comes from pace and width, then teams just get in behind the ball and defend easily against you. And right now we’re not playing with much natural width in attacking areas. The key thing is to play a system that suits the players rather than the manager.

This is where you have to take a close look at the managerial change last month. The pattern of play Hearts are trying to put in place is similar to what St Mirren and Kilmarnock have successfully introduced. The difference between Hearts and those two clubs, however, is that they have had at least one and probably two pre-seasons of working on their chosen systems with their respective managers. Our manager is trying to impart his style on the players at the end of a pre-season and that comes back to the sheer folly of the timing of the sacking of our previous management. I’m not questioning the decision to change the management – that’s the owner’s prerogative. But any football-minded person would tell you, if you’re thinking of changing the manager, do it at the end of the season so the new man gets a full pre-season to work with the players. It’s very hard to work with the players, and for them to take new ideas on board, when you’re playing two or three games a week, but that’s what happens when you make change for the sake of it.

People give me stick for being critical, but I want to make it clear that any views I make in this column are there to be shot at and I’ll never shy away from that. People say all I do is criticise but that’s not true – I just want Hearts to do well. When I do criticise, however, I’d just like to make it clear to anyone at the football club who disagrees with me about something that I’m more than willing to sit round a table and discuss things with them. I have my own views but I’ll always listen to other people’s views.

Because of these bad results this week, there’s a lot of pressure on us to get a result against Celtic as the last thing you want is to be going into the international break on the back of three straight defeats. The fact Motherwell, a side with less resources than us, pulled further clear in third just cranks up the pressure a bit more. The manager needs to get the players to regroup this week and think about things. He has shown in his team selections who he has faith in, but there are times where you have to take a chance and mix things up a bit so maybe he’ll have to think about altering things for Celtic. The team selection for Celtic will tell me a lot as there’s a big onus on the manager and players to bounce back.

The fact there are some doubts being raised just shows you how fickle football is. Last week we were talking about a convincing win over St Mirren and now we’re lamenting a terrible week. By the same token, hopefully we’ll be talking next week about a great result against Celtic and how good the manager’s team selection was.