I was delighted for Gary Locke to get his first win since being made permanent Hearts manager. Like every other Hearts supporter, I came away from Hampden last month wondering how we lost the League Cup final after our dominance in the first half and, by the same token, most of us left Tynecastle on Saturday wondering how we managed to win the game.
But what the win over Ross County showed is that there is resilience about this team and also that Lockey’s got no lack of knowledge. We had been very poor in the first half and County could have been out of sight by half time, but the manager’s decisions helped us get a foothold in the game before it swung in our favour.
Moving Ryan Stevenson into central midfield was one of the most significant calls. I was delighted to see Ryan captain the team because I’ve been a long-time admirer of his. He’s somebody who never shirks anything. He’s a different player to the likes of Jason Holt, Callum Tapping and Mehdi Taouil, but I think we are a far better team when he is playing in central midfield. I know he did well wide-right in the League Cup final, but we need someone with his presence and energy in the middle of the park and I thought we looked much better on Saturday when he was moved in from the right for the second half. I think he should play in the middle for the rest of the season.
Another change that made a significant difference was bringing on young Holt. His goal was a wonder strike; he could play for a long time and not hit one as sweetly as that. We got a bit of luck for the third goal but you make your own luck and then Michael Ngoo killed it with a good second goal for himself.
I have to admit I was surprised that John Sutton wasn’t in the starting XI, especially as we were missing Andy Webster’s experience, but John came on and had a big contribution. It was interesting that our first goal came from the first time that we’d managed to get to the by-line and whip a dangerous ball into the box. Everything until that point had been delivered from deep so it just shows the importance of getting your wide players as close to the line as possible and giving your forwards a chance to attack crosses.
That cross came from Kevin McHattie, who I thought did really well. He had a tough baptism when he first came into the team, but he looks like, with the right guidance from Lockey, he could develop into a really decent player. I know I keep banging on about it, but that’s why I think it’s imperative that the manager is able to bring in someone close to him like David Weir or Sandy Clark, who can help him nurture young boys like McHattie and Brad McKay. It’s a no-brainer to get one of these guys in.
It was encouraging to hear that the manager is going to have a budget to bring in new players in the summer, but, as much as I’d be happy with that, it is somewhat surprising considering the financial situation at the club that we are going to be in a position to bring in new players. In light of the season we have endured, it is imperative that the budget is spent wisely.
In the short-term, we go into the bottom six looking up, while our city rivals are looking over their shoulder. With little at stake, trying to catch Hibs has to be our first mini-target in the remaining games, and then, if we can show the type of spirit we showed on Saturday, we could end up going for seventh place, which wouldn’t be a disaster considering the season we’ve had. You’d hope that we will have a bit of an advantage over the likes of Aberdeen, Hibs and Kilmarnock because we’ll be going into the bottom six on the back of a positive result, while they will be on a bit of a downer.