HAVING matched Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez stride for stride less than 48 hours ago, Hearts players may feel slightly underwhelmed facing the likes of Iain Davidson and John Baird tomorrow.
Dundee’s visit to Tynecastle brings John McGlynn and his squad hurtling back to earth after hob-nobbing with some of Europe’s finest at Anfield.
Proud as they rightly are of their European performance, domestic progress now becomes the focal point of the season. Hearts ran Liverpool tantalisingly close in the Europa League play-off as David Templeton’s goal threatened to force extra-time until Suarez produced an inspired winner. Once the frustration disperses, it is important for the club’s immediate future that standards are maintained. Dundee may be bottom of the SPL without a goal to their name but the Hearts players are aware of the need to maintain the heights reached on Thursday night.
“What happened at Anfield is something we can definitely look back on throughout the season,” said goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald. “It just shows you. If we have the ability to match a team like Liverpool, then we have the ability to win most games in the SPL if we want to. We now need to make sure our concentration levels are up so that we do it in the league.
“This is a standard we’ve set for ourselves now. We know we can play at that level. We just need to make sure we carry it into the league. We were a little bit tired last Sunday up in Aberdeen after the first leg against Liverpool. You could see the legs went because we’d put so much into the game. That’s something we’ll need to watch for again tomorrow against Dundee.”
Even though the transfer window is now closed, MacDonald expects some of his colleagues to be monitored closely following Thursday’s exploits. “It probably will bring a little bit more interest in players. Because we matched Liverpool, people who maybe weren’t too sure on some of our players might now be looking at them and realising they can do a job.
“The boys were absolutely brilliant over the two legs. In the first leg, I don’t think we deserved to lose 1-0. Then Thursday night was so near, going 1-0 up and then losing it a few minutes later. There is massive pride in the boys, we were just unfortunate not to get something overall.
“After Temps scored, our first thought was to concentrate and make sure we didn’t concede. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. The team Liverpool had out was worthy of top-five or top-six in the English Premier League. They’ve spent a fortune, whilst we’re at the opposite end of the scale. It shows how well we can play on our day. The gulf in class maybe isn’t as big as some people make it out to be sometimes.”
MacDonald revealed his feelings as Suarez struck the goal which ultimately eliminated Hearts from Europe. “I can’t believe he’s actually scored from there. He was at a very tight angle and he’s got it through the eye of a needle. He did so well to slide it past Zal’s (Marius Zaliukas) foot first of all and then past mine. I couldn’t move because of the pace on the ball. He was only four or five yards away when he hit it. That’s what beat me. On another day, it maybe hits a toe and goes wide.”
Hearts players spent last night recuperating from their European exertions, with Zaliukas and Peter Enckelman the only doubts to face Dundee. Zaliukas is getting through on a game-by-game basis at the moment due to a thigh injury injured against Inverness two weeks ago, whilst Enckelman’s shoulder keeps him out.
McGlynn is determined not to simply brush off the 2-1 aggregate defeat on Merseyside. As he explained, there is much his young players can glean from an encounter with Liverpool. “You can only learn when you’re on the pitch with guys like Gerrard and Suarez,” he said. “You can see what they do and think to yourself, ‘nobody else I’ve played against has tried that move or that touch’.
“Hopefully the young players take the confidence of playing on that stage. They’ve played in a game which went worldwide. It’s up to them to keep their feet on the ground but recognise they’ve played a very big part in a massive game.
“Last Sunday we found it difficult away to Aberdeen, particularly in the second half. History tells you teams generally struggle after European ties. We saw that for ourselves last week. The fact we’re at home tomorrow will be a big factor. We’re not travelling up to Aberdeen and we don’t have to stay overnight anywhere. The players are home in their own beds. Hopefully having a home crowd behind us will help us as well after the two performances we’ve had against Liverpool.
“Tynecastle can be quiet at times so we need the fans to get behind the boys again and show their appreciation for what the players have done. It’s really all about three points tomorrow. If we can do that, it would be the statement of a really good start to the season. If we win, it’s only one defeat from seven games to an own goal against Liverpool. To me, that would be a good start to the campaign.”