As we break off for the international double-header, I’d summarise Hearts’ season so far by saying it’s been very much up and down, with perhaps slightly more downs than ups.
Yesterday’s defeat at Celtic Park pretty much summed up why it’s been like that, as the performance wasn’t bad but, despite creating a few chances to take the lead, it was the same old story in terms of lacking a cutting edge.
So many times this season, we’ve missed the chances to take the lead in games and then gone on to lose, but that’s the margins in football. You can play the better football for 89 minutes in a game, but ultimately it comes down to who is better at putting the ball in the net and yesterday, like at St Mirren a few weeks previously, Celtic were better than us in that department. Over the piece, I didn’t think Celtic had any more chances than us, but they took one of their opportunities and that was the difference between the teams.
They were definitely there for the taking yesterday. Without Scott Brown, their captain, and then, having lost their vice-captain Charlie Mulgrew through injury during the game, they looked very flat after their midweek heroics in Europe. Unfortunately, it’s apparent to all that Hearts were lacking someone capable of taking advantage of that – someone like my old team-mate, John Robertson.
Back in my playing days, when we created chances, we knew Robbo would invariably put them away. But right now, there seems to be no-one at the club who can score on a prolific basis. We need to find someone, whether that involves investing a bit of money to bring an established striker in or finding a kid out of the academy, because we are creating chances. Sadly, those with the quality to score regularly are the hardest players to come by in football, although we did let one go in the shape of Rudi Skacel.
If the striking issue isn’t addressed, I think the season is likely to continue in a similar vein to the way it’s started, with highs followed by lows. It’s a very tight league, but because there’s a wee gap developing between Hearts and some of the teams higher up the league, it will crank up the pressure a bit for the players when they return after the international break.
The fixtures don’t get easier when we resume, with Motherwell due to visit Tynecastle, and it goes without saying that that will be a very tough game for a Hearts team struggling to get any rhythm. We can only hope that, between now and Christmas, the high points start to outweigh the low points and we can start to creep up the table because no Hearts fan likes to look at the table and see us languishing in ninth place, especially in October when we have almost completed the first round of fixtures.
Despite the indifferent start to the campaign, I have no problem at all with the manager. We knew before John McGlynn got the job that it was going to be a difficult season for the club and I have maximum sympathy for him in terms of the job he is being asked to perform in relation to the constraints.
In fact, the presence of John at the club is the main reason that I have some hope that things can improve. I know the way he operates and I have great belief in his work ethic. If Hearts are found wanting this season, it certainly won’t be down to the manager.