HEARTS manager Gary Locke admitted that the pre-season friendly clash with Dinamo Bucharest was a good workout despite his team slumping to a 5-1 defeat last night in Greater Manchester.
The Romanians already had four games under their belts before this match, staged at Leigh Sports Village, and it showed as they slotted five past the Jambos.
A double from Matei and later strikes from Joel Thomas, Dorin Rotariu and Ionel Danciulescu stamped home Bucharest’s superiority, with a Jamie Hamill penalty Hearts’ only reward for their graft.
While Locke stressed that he would not read too much into the result, he did admit that his team would have to defend better in games to come.
Hearts face Dunfermline on Saturday, before travelling to take on Raith Rovers next week and then the tournament in Belfast and Locke is confident that Hearts will improve as they get more football under their belts.
He said: “You’re looking to build a bit of momentum in pre-season and we had East Fife lined up originally but they had to pull out.
“We took this one on and we knew that it was going to be difficult. They have already played four games, and it certainly showed. They are a top, top side, they are Champions League quality and they were a good test for us.
“I said to the lads after the game that they will get a lot more out of a game against them than we would a lot of other sides.
“I felt that we played a bit better in the second half but it is only the first game and, although I am disappointed at three or four of the goals that we lost, there’s no point in being too doom and gloom.
“A lot of these boys were playing for the first time in a long time, so there were a lot of positives to take and we have got to remember that this is a young, young team.
“In fact, I think that we finished with a majority of our under-18s team.”
Locke, effectively, has been asked to take charge of the season ahead with one hand tied behind his back. He may have limited options because of the cuts made as part of the administration process but the team he fielded certainly looked a strong one on paper.
It was business as usual so far as Jamie MacDonald was concerned, the goalkeeper taking up his familiar position between the sticks for Hearts, although he was replaced at half-time to give Mark Ridgers 45 minutes.
With Danny Wilson and Callum Paterson sitting in the stand, Locke went with a flexible system, which started out with a 4-3-2-1 formation.
Hearts lined-up with Kevin McHattie and Jamie Hamill in the full-back positions and Brad McKay and Dylan McGowan in the centre of defence.
Calum Tapping and Scott Robinson played just in front of them, while David Smith, Jason Holt and Jamie Walker made up the rest of the midfield. Ryan Stevenson started the match up front on his own.
Hearts had an early chance when Walker picked out Smith and the youngster launched a strong right-foot shot at goalkeeper Kristijan Naumovski which flew just wide of his left-hand post.
The Romanians hit back straight away when Andrei Vastag whipped the ball in from the right and it fell to Alexandru Curtean, but his shot was just tipped over by MacDonald.
Bucharest took the lead with just over 15 minutes gone and it was a good finish from Cosmin Matei after he collected from Laurentiu Rus.
And they doubled their advantage five minutes later when former Hamilton Accies player Joel Thomas stepped away from Kevin McHattie’s challenge just on the edge of the six-yard box with ease and calmly picked his spot before slotting beyond MacDonald.
Bucharest started this match well ahead of Hearts in their preparations, having already faced Oldham Athletic, Livingston and Ayr United and their superior fitness levels were obvious in the opening 45 minutes.
Srdjan Luchin could have made it three, only for him to send his header over the bar when he was left standing in clear space and then Ionut Serban.
Hearts did come close before the break when Walker’s cross was met by Kevin McHattie and he was unlucky to see his stinging effort blocked by the keeper’s legs. Their third goal was a well-worked one, Thomas playing a neat one-two with Alexandru Curtean and picking out Matei for his second of the night.
Hearts did pull one back just after the hour and it came from the penalty spot after Luchin brought down Dale Carrick inside the box, Jamie Hamill converting from 12 yards with his right boot.
Thomas had played a pivotal role and he was again at the centre of the action as Bucharest rounded off the scoring, stabbing the return ball through to Dorin Rotariu and he lifted the ball over MacDonald and into the net.
The fifth goal was a flowing move on the counter attack, which left Ionel Danciulescu in space and he produced a finish to match which left MacDonald helpless. A challenge from Hamill brought the game to an end for two-goal Matei, the Romanian player being helped off the pitch and looking to be in some pain in his right ankle.
The clash brought about an angry exchange of words between Locke and his opposite number but that was the only time Hearts provoked a response from their opponents.
Locke brought Gary Naysmith, who was listed as a trialist, off the bench to replace Kevin McHattie with just over an hour gone.
“Gary has been training with us for a while,” said Locke, “and he is looking to get himself fit.
“He came off knackered at the end, so that’s a good thing.
“I know Gary really well, he has asked us for training facilities and I am more than happy to help him out. It was good to see him in a Hearts jersey again.
“We are a young team, so to have Gary about the place is good, we have not got a lot of experienced players so it is good for them.
“These young players will have to learn quick, that is for sure.”
Hearts: MacDonald (Ridgers 46), Hamill, McHattie (Naysmith 64), McGowan, McKay, Tapping, Walker (King 46), Robinson Carrick 46), Stevenson (Oliver, 83), Holt (McGhee 74), Smith (Nicholson).