Gary Mackay: Inexperience costs Hearts dear

Ross County's  Richard Brittain heads home the late winner. Picture: David Lamb
Ross County's Richard Brittain heads home the late winner. Picture: David Lamb
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I’m still wondering how Hearts ended up losing that game on Saturday, but it is hard to escape the feeling that inexperience cost us dear in the last few minutes.

A more experienced team would surely have seen the game out because Hearts were the better team for most of the game and Ross County were very poor. Having said that, I did turn to my younger brother during the game and said that, if they got one, they’d probably go on to win the game – and so it was to prove.

I ended up watching the game from the directors’ box, which is just behind the two dugouts, after a kind and unexpected invite from Roy MacGregor, the Ross County chairman, whom I just happened to bump into while making my way towards the ground.

It meant I was in a good position to hear the shouts from the management. In the lead-up to the first County goal, I was listening to our management shouting “stop the cross”, but we didn’t do it. Then, after the first goal, the shouts from the Hearts dugout were to play the ball to the corner to run the clock down and ease the pressure for a bit, but we didn’t do that either.

These instructions are being shouted for a reason, but the fact the players weren’t able to carry them out showed the inexperience in this young group. I felt particularly sorry at the end for the most experienced player in our team, Jamie Hamill, because he certainly didn’t deserve to be on the losing side. The way he played and threw his body on the line whenever he had to, was a joy to behold. He underlined the spirit of the team and typifies what any one of us supporters would want to do if we were on the pitch.

I still feel we’re a bit short in attack though. I know plenty people were critical of John Sutton when he was at Hearts, but, in relation to the squad we have at present, I definitely wish we still had him at the club.

Ross County were able to bring on the big boy De Leeuw and it’s clear we’re definitely missing an experienced presence in the front area of the pitch. Jamie MacDonald is a pretty experienced keeper, Danny Wilson, even though he is still young, has been round the block and brings a good bit of experience to the defence and Hamill is an experienced presence in midfield, but, in the absence of Ryan Stevenson, we are entirely reliant on young boys in the attacking area.

I’m not just talking about someone who can score goals, we’re also missing someone with the experience and knowledge of when to hold the ball in and generally take knocks and ease the pressure on the rest of the team.

It’s now going to be a serious test of this team’s character to bounce back from the manner of the defeat, especially as that was their third in a row. The only consolation, as seems to be the case every week just now, is that we haven’t lost any ground on St Mirren. We have already gained on them but if we are to stay up we are going to probably have to win more points than them in each quarter of the season. That will be a tall order because ultimately they will win games at some point.

I don’t want to underplay Wednesday’s game against Queen of the South because the League Cup gives you a chance to build up confidence and momentum, not to mention boosting the finances. However, our need to pick up league points remains far more important than reaching a cup final, so I’d maybe be inclined to freshen the team up a bit and rest some of these players who have run themselves into the ground so far this season.