Gary Mackay: Fatigue kicking in for worn-out dependables

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STEPHEN ELLIOTT typifies how things are at Hearts just now. He’s someone who continuously gives his all, but is in danger of being run into the ground.

I think Paulo Sergio has got six or seven players that he views as first-choice picks and then he has another dozen or so after that who he is hoping to get a turn from but maybe doesn’t think are quite as reliable.

There’s been such a big ask of the more dependable week-in, week-out players, while some of the others have maybe not stepped up to the mark. Elliott is one of those who generally plays every week these days and he’s running himself to a standstill for the team. I know what it’s like because I remember being asked to play right-wing-back in a 3-5-2 under Joe Jordan and I feel in hindsight that it took a year or two off my career because it was such a hard role to play. Playing up front on your own, what a task it is. The others whom the manager feels are reliable are being asked to go and perform in every game. That can take its toll when you have a hectic schedule like Hearts have just had and I think it’s safe to say it showed in Saturday’s performance at Motherwell.

After watching the incredible work-rate Hearts showed against St Johnstone in the Scottish Cup last Tuesday, I don’t think anyone could question the fact that Hearts were second-favourites going into Saturday’s game. I spoke to [Motherwell assistant] Kenny Black and he was impressed with the resilience Hearts showed against St Johnstone but I also detected that he felt Motherwell could take advantage of Hearts’ fatigue by getting on the front foot early on and forcing them into submission. Sadly, that’s how it panned out.

I don’t think our chances of third place are totally gone but it’s going to be very difficult now, especially considering how few goals we score away from home. That’s a problem for us. If you take out the three goals we scored at Easter Road at New Year, we’ve only scored five goals in 13 away games. We’ve got a terrible away record – even Dunfermline have more points and more goals than us on the road. We’re struggling to create away from home. Thankfully, our home form has been the best in the league outwith the top two – that is what has allowed us to remain competitive.

We can’t be too critical of Paulo Sergio for our away form because we have to remember he has signed none of his own players and has lost some important ones in the past few months. He has also had to worked under very trying circumstances. On the whole, for him to come in and work with a squad he previously had no knowledge of, I think we have to say he has done very well to have us in fourth place in the league and in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.

Dundee United is a massive game this weekend, as we want to get a bit of momentum and finish as high as we can in the league. But it’s the Scottish Cup that will really drive everyone on now. That St Mirren quarter-final next month now takes on huge proportions because probably every team still in the Cup will feel they have a real chance of going all the way. Hearts have had a relatively decent run of home ties so hopefully we can make the most of it and get back to Hampden.

The prospect of a cup run is massive for the supporters, especially for the ones who follow the team home and away. The ones who only go to home games will have had a good season because they’ve seen Hearts win eight out of 13. However, those who have followed the team away haven’t had much to cheer about. They got to savour resilient display from their team in Perth, but here’s hoping there’s a day or two out at Hampden to really reward those supporters who follow the team all over the land.