YESTERDAY was a bad day at the office for everyone connected with Hearts, but you won’t catch me going overboard in my criticism.
As horrible as it was to watch, it wasn’t a great surprise to me that Celtic ran out convincing winners. In our current predicament, we were always liable to take a few thrashings this season and Celtic were always the likeliest team to give us a hiding. They love coming to Tynecastle – it seems to bring out the best in them. Let’s not forget better Hearts teams than this one have been hammered 3-0 and 4-0 at home to Celtic over the past few seasons. When they turn on the style, like they seem to do so often against Hearts these days, they are pretty much unstoppable.
We’ve never had a great record against Celtic at youth level over the years, so it stands to reason that a team made up predominantly of youth-team players from the past few years will find things exceptionally hard when they come up against a formidable Celtic first team which is full of established internationalists and contains no youth-team products. Apart from Jamie Walker, I thought all the Hearts players had an off-day, while Celtic were simply irresistible.
The fact Gary Locke has kept the players going to the end of most other matches this season – as highlighted the previous weekend against Ross County when we could have won the game – shows that, in terms of capitulating, yesterday was a one-off against a team who were playing on a different level to anything else in the Scottish Premiership.
Some critics bizarrely continue to question the manager’s tactics when we have one of these setbacks, which is to completely ignore the bigger picture. If the team barely make a single tackle in the opening 20 minutes, as Hearts did yesterday, then the other team – especially if they have better players, as Celtic do – will be able to dictate the game. Gary Locke and Billy Brown can’t go on the pitch and make tackles for the Hearts players. They can only do so much from the sidelines. Once they cross the white line, it is down to the players to do the right things.
Unlike Neil Lennon, Gary Locke has been unable sign the type of players who are in the habit of doing the right things week in, week out. That is why we are getting such inconsistency. Yesterday was one of the few occasions we have failed to compete in a game this season, but that is slightly countered by the fact that Celtic, in that form, would have hammered most teams in Scotland. Thankfully, that result came in the cup, rather than in the league.
In the grand scheme of things, getting knocked out of the Scottish Cup is not a massive concern to me. Next weekend’s league game at Dundee United is of far more importance and that will give us a chance to get yesterday’s game out of our system.
We’ve had a reasonable record against Dundee United at youth-team level, so next week will be a good test for our youngsters against boys they will have been used to competing with over the past few years. Hearts and Dundee United have similar aspirations with regards to developing their own young players, so it will be interesting to see how the two teams fare against each other. The way United are playing at the moment, it is another game that every Hearts fan will enter more in hope than expectation.
We had good news on Friday with the CVA proposal being approved, but there will plenty more difficult days ahead before we get back to where we want to be.