FOR the first time in John McGlynn’s tenure, Hearts’ attack contained energy, presence and a clinical edge at Tannadice. Much of that was down to a 17-year-old kid with only eight senior games to his name.
Callum Paterson led the forward line with purpose, scoring twice and thereby cementing himself as a striker for the foreseeable future.
After spells at right-back and right midfield this season, Paterson provided a solution to McGlynn’s attacking conundrum in this resounding defeat of Dundee United.
Both his goals – his first in competitive football – were dispatched with the instinct of a natural scorer. Other notable aspects of his display were his enthusiasm, guile and physical presence. He finished as the undisputable man of the match.
It should not be forgotten that Scott Robinson’s role in supporting Paterson from an attacking midfield berth was an equally vital component of Hearts’ play.
He at times played like a second striker and helped assist the teenager going forward in a way that John Sutton, for example, has often been denied this season. The upshot was a thriving attacking display and three extremely well-executed goals – two for Paterson and a splendid 25-yard effort from the improving Arvydas Novikovas.
With Ryan Stevenson and Mehdi Taouil anchoring midfield, Hearts’ homegrown four of Paterson, Robinson, Novikovas and Dale Carrick provided invention and panache in the final third.
That has been glaringly absent at times, but this was unquestionably their finest SPL performance under McGlynn, who acknowledged he had found a successful formula.
“I would think Callum is a striker now,” he said. “He came to us as an attacking player from Tynecastle Boys’ Club two years ago. In that time, he has been a right midfielder and gone back the pitch to play centre-back and right-back in the youth team. He has played a number of positions. In the close season when I got this job, I spoke with the backroom staff about all the players to assess what we had. We were obviously short of strikers.
“I wanted to get Ryan McGowan forward from midfield, so we were playing Callum at right-back. He did exceptionally well; however, you could maybe see that defensively he was a wee bit suspect. So we put Ryan McGowan back there and pushed Callum further forward.
“You see the attributes he has got. We don’t have lots of strikers, so you take a chance with him up front. He’s caused problems in two games up there and might have scored four goals. I would suggest there is good evidence to keep him up there.”
Although Dundee United started impressively and had a strong penalty claim refused when Willo Flood fell in a challenge with Ryan Stevenson, Hearts were ruthless when chances presented themselves. Paterson scored first on 28 minutes by dispatching Sean Dillon’s partial clearance powerfully beyond Radoslaw Cierzniak, the Dundee United goalkeeper, with his weaker left foot.
Two minutes later, Novikovas ambled forward to unleash a swerving effort from distance which nestled in the net before Cierzniak could move.
That put the visitors in total control. Jamie MacDonald held efforts from Gavin Gunning and Stuart Armstrong before the interval, and, after the restart, Gunning headed Ryan Dow’s corner against the Hearts crossbar.
The Edinburgh side remained patient and were gifted a chance to secure victory by Dillon on 61 minutes. The Irishman played a carelessly short backpass to Cierzniak, who was immediately pressurised by Ryan McGowan. The loose ball fell to Paterson to roll into the unguarded net via a post. Game over.
“I felt Callum could’ve scored two goals last week because he got into great positions against St Mirren,” continued McGlynn. “His first goal was a great strike with his left foot. The second one, I’ve actually seen them missed when you have a bit of time and you’re looking at the goal. The angle was getting narrower, but he managed to get it in off the post. He caused problems for Dundee United all afternoon and was a real handful. When you’re 3-0 up with twenty minutes to go, you do start to feel comfortable.
“The start of the game was very even. The first goal can be the winner and it turned out that way because we followed it up quickly with a second. That gave us a cushion and a lot of confidence at half-time.
“We’d been in this situation before against Inverness and we learned from that situation by not throwing bodies forward. I thought we were very professional in the second half. We’re delighted to win 3-0 at Tannadice because, as everyone knows, it’s three years since Hearts won here.”
Dundee United, by their standards in recent seasons under Peter Houston, were poor. Defensively they looked disjointed and the manager was honest in his assessment.
“We were comprehensively beaten in the end. I felt Hearts bullied us in every area of the pitch, and I don’t mean in a bad way. They were up and at us and pressed us very, very hard.
“You have to give them credit and I don’t want to take anything away from Hearts, but we were a bit soft-centred.” McGlynn granted a senior debut to another graduate of the Riccarton youth academy, Dylan McGowan, during the final minutes. However, this was the day Paterson properly came of age and offered his manager the kind of attacking option he has been craving for some time.