MENTAL strength helped Hearts frighten the life out of Liverpool on Thursday evening. Manager John McGlynn is demanding more of that commodity at Pittodrie tomorrow to preserve an unbeaten start to the domestic campaign. Understandably, he wants to nurture confidence levels within
his squad following a rousing performance against one of England’s leading clubs.
Hearts must tread carefully, for last week’s squandering of a two-goal lead against ten-man Inverness proved why complacency gets punished in the SPL. The challenge this weekend is to follow an encouraging European night with a productive result in the league, something Scottish teams habitually find difficult.
“That’s the positive spin that we have to look for, to go to Aberdeen and play equally as well as we did against Liverpool,” said McGlynn. “Aberdeen have started the season fairly well. Of course, we want the players to take confidence and belief from Thursday but that’s the doubt in my mind at the minute regarding our consistency level. We’ve got try and hit that consistency week in, week out and be mentally strong.
“You can’t be like ‘we’re 2-0 up against ten men so we can now switch off’. That means we’re mentally weak. We’ve got to be strong to go out and not lose a two-goal lead in those circumstances. We want to take belief so there’s a balance to be struck to try and get the formula right.
“The players recognise they put a performance in against Liverpool so they won’t feel down. They put a lot of energy into it but we should get a good spin-off from the way we played. Their minds will be fine. Aberdeen had to play a game on Wednesday night (against Morton in the League Cup) which went into extra-time so it wasn’t like they had a free week. That helps us a wee bit.”
An important aspect of matching Liverpool was McGlynn’s decision to return Ryan McGowan to the right-back role he performed so consistently in during the latter months of last season. The Australian was a standout, with 17-year-old Callum Paterson equally influential ahead of him in midfield. McGlynn hinted he may stick with that ploy.
“It worked on Thursday night and it’s something that we would probably look to try and continue. The balance in the middle of the park is key. With losing Ian Black and Rudi Skacel, we’ve lost a lot from that midfield. We tried things in pre-season which went fairly well but I’m still not totally convinced it was right. We changed it around a wee bit against Liverpool and it seemed to work that wee bit better.”
Aberdeen’s start to the SPL has been similarly bright, the only defeat being the 1-0 reverse at Celtic Park on the opening day. McGlynn is mindful of the improvement in a team that finished ninth last year. “Aberdeen would probably admit themselves that they’ve underachieved in recent years,” he stated. “They’ve still been spending substantial amounts of money on wages.
“They brought in Gavin Rae, Stephen Hughes and Johnny Hayes so they have quite a good balance to the team. There is also the young boy (Ryan) Fraser, Scott Vernon is always a threat and there’s the experience of Gary Naysmith. I got a report on their game against St Johnstone last week and I watched them at Cappielow the other night. Although Aberdeen were the better team, Morton caused them one or two problems. I saw some situations that we can maybe exploit.”
If Hearts can unsettle Aberdeen the way they unsettled Liverpool, they can be confident of continuing what is a startling sequence of results against the Pittodrie club. Not since January 2010 have Hearts lost a goal in meetings between the two clubs. The mental toughness referred to by McGlynn will be vital tomorrow. In an ideal scenario, the manager would dearly love an exact replica of the performance against Liverpool.
“Nobody can tell me they weren’t nervous on occasions, like when Arvydas hit that shot in the first half and Pepe Reina kind of spilled it. Maybe, with a goalkeeper of lesser talent, that might have gone in the top bin. There were a few opportunities we had which had them rocking at times,” said McGlynn.
“We hoped that was going to be the situation. The pressure for us was that, if we didn’t start well and lost an early goal, it was going to be another Tottenham. It wouldn’t have been very nice so there was pressure because we didn’t want to get embarrassed.
“I thought we came through that very well. We did most things right, we could maybe have finished off things better in the final third. We had good chances and shots on target that possibly could have gone in. The perfect situation would have been for the score to read ‘Liverpool 0’. At the end of the day, we had to score for them.”