Gary Mackay: Esmael Goncalves needs a strike partner

Hearts' Esmael Goncalves (left) celebrates his goal. Pic: SNS
Hearts' Esmael Goncalves (left) celebrates his goal. Pic: SNS
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The main thing to take from Saturday’s game against is that the loyal Hearts supporters who made the journey to Ibrox witnessed a much-improved performance.

Considering the way things have been going, the players could easily have thrown in the towel and been on the end of a hammering after having a man sent off at 1-0 down. For all that they stuck manfully to our task and showed a bit of spirit to stay in the game, however, I won’t be going overboard with praise.

Although it’s a mini-step in the right direction, why haven’t we seen more of that spirit in recent months? We have to remember we were up against a Rangers side who, like ourselves, are having a difficult time and whose best players are Clint Hill and Kenny Miller – two men 37 or older. I’ll reserve judgment for now until I see performances like that on a more regular basis.

What I did take from the game is that we are at our most dangerous when Esmael Goncalves has a partner alongside him. That was evident in the way we got the goal, when Bjorn Johnsen set him up. It was admirable that we kept the two strikers on the pitch after the red card, but why have we not gone with that approach in other games? Far too many times this season Goncalves has been up on his own and we’ve looked totally ineffective.

Hopefully the team can take a bit of confidence from Saturday into the last two games as we try to give supporters some cause for optimism over the summer. Over the next week we come up against two teams who have outperformed us in different ways this season. Wednesday’s trip to Perth will see us face a St Johnstone side who have finished ahead of us on a significantly-inferior budget. The fact they are celebrating a fourth-place finish and yet another crack at European football while we have finished behind them despite being a good bit in front of them in December, underlines the contrasting paths we have been on in recent months. Likewise, Celtic, whom we visit on the last day, have kicked on to a new level under strong management this season, while we have regressed.

All we can do in our next two games is try and give our supporters some hope that things will be a whole lot better next term.