Gary Mackay: Sam Nicholson’s loss proved decisive

Sam Nicholson of Hearts is removed from the field on a stretcher
Sam Nicholson of Hearts is removed from the field on a stretcher
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Watching Sam Nicholson in action yesterday was one of the major positives of an otherwise disappointing afternoon. For me, his injury proved to be a turning point from Hearts’ perspective.

Inverness went 1-0 up and we showed great spirit to come back and turn it round into a 2-1 lead. The pivotal moment for me was, having already used two subs, we couldn’t replace Nicholson with the same kind of player when he had to leave the pitch.

There was no other wide player to bring on and so Callum Tapping was brought on. I think that made Hearts into a team that was less potent against the nine men of Inverness, and that isn’t a slight on Tapping.

We had three holding midfield players on the pitch and that was far easier for Inverness to defend against. It is obviously far easier to defend against Scott Robinson, Jamie Hamill and Tapping than it would have been against Robinson and Hamill with Nicholson on one side and Callum Paterson on the other.

I thought that was a huge blow to Hearts’ aspirations of reaching the League Cup final. Nicholson hadn’t done as well in the second period as he did in the first but you just felt that, with two Inverness players sent off, Sam would have been a wee light bulb. Him going off denied Hearts that opportunity.

I know Inverness ended up with nine men, but if you judge the 90 minutes of normal time then I think they probably had the clearer chances. Jamie MacDonald had to make a few important saves.

I felt we were always pretty fragile at the back and I haven’t felt that way about Hearts very often this season. Jamie was outstanding but I felt there was a fragility about us that hasn’t been witnessed too much.

Overall, there is still scope for positivity, although it doesn’t feel much like that right now. We’ve been to two cup finals in the last two seasons, and this season we’ve been in a semi-final as well. Okay, we’ve ended up suffering a defeat but that disappointment will hopefully become minimal over the coming weeks.

The longevity of the football club is ultimately more important, although this defeat will still be raw for a few days. We are awaiting better news regarding the club coming out of administration.

The players I feel for just now are Jamie MacDonald, Ryan Stevenson and Jamie Hamill. In particular, Jamie has scored two goals yesterday and got nothing for doing so. That’s hard to take.

These guys who are slightly older will know that, as you get towards the end of your career, you never know when you’ll get another opportunity to get to a cup final. I’m not saying any of them are ready to retire but they are the more experienced members of the squad.

Younger players know they will, hopefully, get more opportunities. These older ones will be wondering whether there will be another chance. Hopefully they will have the opportunity to continue their careers with Hearts as the club becomes a bit more buoyant than it has been over the last few months.