Gary Mackay: Hearts capable of much better than lethargic display

From left, Hearts players Faycal Rherras, Robbie Muirhead and Jamie Walker trudge off after defeat by Aberdeen. Pic: SNS

From left, Hearts players Faycal Rherras, Robbie Muirhead and Jamie Walker trudge off after defeat by Aberdeen. Pic: SNS

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I recognise that Hearts were clearly missing important players like Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson, and I understand that a change of head coach will always require a settling-in period, but what I’ve been unable to get my head round with regard to Friday’s match was the shape of the team, the clear absence of width and why we played with such lethargy that we never laid a glove on Aberdeen.

After leaving the Kilmarnock game on Tuesday, I was happy with the result and the victory but I felt we shouldn’t get carried away because they were as poor a Premiership team as I can recall seeing at Tynecastle. We didn’t have to use a massive amount of energy in winning that game because it was pretty straightforward, but on Friday we looked leggy compared to Aberdeen. We never got close to them, we never won the battles and, as Ian Cathro said, we weren’t able to put our stamp on the game.

In every game in professional football, however, you firstly have to earn the right to impress your game on the opposition, and the reason we didn’t do that is that Aberdeen simply swarmed us. They got in about us, they tackled and got close to us and got support to their striker and got width in the game, which is where the goal came from. These are all things we didn’t do. Jamie Walker, who had one shot on goal near the end, was very rarely in wide areas where he can hurt the opposition. That is meant as no criticism of Jamie, who was back defending his own box just moments before that shot. I can’t remember at any point Hearts getting in behind the Aberdeen defence in a wide area, the way they did for their goal. Most teams who are easy on the eye play with width in the final third, and it was obvious that we didn’t have any.

In an eagerly-anticipated evening match against one of our biggest rivals, when the atmosphere is usually electric at Tynecastle, we didn’t win the right to get full backing from our supporters because we never got in about them. We played the game with a whimper. If we had been playing Kilmarnock or Partick, for instance, I could almost have understood why there may have been a low-key approach, but not against traditional rivals like Aberdeen in such an important match. We should have been capable of having more of a go at them than we did.

One of the few positives from Friday is that we have a very promising young goalkeeper. Jack Hamilton was very impressive, but he had to be just to keep us in the game.

I get that it may take time for the manager to fully implement his style, but in the short term, we should still be capable of finding ways to win games and get points on the board.

We’re now at a stage where the January transfer activity is likely to determine the enthusiasm levels of the supporters going forward, because on Friday some left early and the majority didn’t feel the team gave it their best shot. I felt the supporters were short-changed by the approach. It was a very disappointing way to end the year, but hopefully the break will now allow everyone to recharge and for the players and the head coach to continue learning about each other. We need a more positive outlook after the break than we have seen over the last month.

It’s not going to be easy when we come back after the break because there’ll be a bit of pressure on us when we play Raith in the Scottish Cup due to our recent poor record in the knockout competitions, and then the week after that we have a formidable league game away to Celtic. That’s hardly an ideal scenario for the new head coach considering we have only taken four points from his five games thus far and have slipped eight and six points behind Rangers and Aberdeen respectively. Right now, we’re in a position where I’m more worried about ensuring we finish above St Johnstone than catching Rangers or Aberdeen.