Gary Mackay: Second spot not so far away in tight SPL season

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It sums up how tight the SPL is this 
season, that, even though Hearts are ninth, we can still be thinking about 
challenging for second place.

Four points from two games against teams above us in the league has to be seen as a positive in that regard. That’s the sort of ratio you’re always looking for over the course of a season. Having said that, we are still waiting for back-to-back league wins this season, so that needs to be our next goal. If we can string a run together we could really start climbing the league quite quickly.

The big disappointment from Saturday was that we were unable to capitalise on the fact St Johnstone had a makeshift defence out. I thought prior to the match that Hearts would win because you wouldn’t think a squad of Saints’ size would be able to cope with all the absentees they had, but full credit to them. They made a good fist of it and gave us a harder game than I expected.

There’s always a degree of frustration when you go ahead twice and don’t win the game. It was especially disappointing to let them back into it so quickly after the first goal. Nonetheless we’ve picked up four good points in two games, which is not a bad return in such a tight league.

I was happy for the two goal-scorers because John Sutton and Andrew Driver have had a difficult time of it lately. Sutton scored one and made one, which will do him the world of good, while it seems such a long time ago that Driver scored his last goal – against Hibs – so hopefully that will do him some good as well.

We’re now set up nicely for a game against Dundee United that has an absolutely crazy kick-off time. It’s not helpful at all to supporters to ask them to come out for a game at 4.30 on a Sunday, two days before Christmas. We’ve had some good games against United lately and I don’t expect anything different on Sunday.

There’s been much said about the formation lately, but sometimes you just fall into a set-up that works for you in terms of both system and personnel, and right now we seem to be doing reasonably well. I think with a 4-4-2 formation you can create more chances and pose more of a threat, but this is obviously countered by the fact that you’re not protecting your defence as much as you would with three central midfielders.

When people talk about 4-3-3 these days, it’s often very different from 4-3-3 of, say, 20 years ago. Back then, it was usually three genuine attacking players across the front, whereas now it’s more often a rock solid 4-5-1 first and foremost, which then becomes a 4-3-3. I think it’s more about the personnel than the formation, though. Hearts have got enough experienced players to work round whatever formation the manager suggests.

There’s no doubt that, having scored four goals in two games with two up front, we’ve looked like we’ve got more opportunity to get goals. That is countered slightly, however, by the fact that more open formation saw us lose two goals, which we don’t often do, so it’s a really hard balancing act for any manager to weigh up.

With our League Cup semi-final in mind, I must commend Inverness for the way they are going about their business. Terry Butcher has got them absolutely flying at the moment. It’s still over a month away, but, if anyone wasn’t already aware, the results they’re getting just now prove that game will certainly be no formality.

Away from Tynecastle, it’s great to see so many men with Hearts links doing well in managerial roles in the SFL. The one that’s really standing out just now is Billy Brown at East Fife. After taking over East Fife at the bottom of the league last month, they’ve now won three on the spin and are up to seventh. Well done, Billy!