'Half our team were just 16': Steven Naismith proud of Hearts but Tranent boss Colin Nish 'finds a solution'
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Character, physicality and aggression got the job done eventually to keep the East Lothian side level on points with East Kilbride in an intriguing Lowland League promotion race. It’s not how they usually win games, but it’s what was required on the day in front of more than 600 spectators at Foresters Park against a Hearts team made up predominantly of 16 and 17-year-olds and with only two subs, one of them a goalkeeper.
Trailing 2-0 at the break and outplayed for the best part of an hour, Tranent pushed up and adopted a more direct approach. Their reward was three goals in 12 second-half minutes from Adam McGowan, Kieran Somerville and Nicky Reid. And three massive points.
“Character is exactly what it was,” Nish explained. “It’s probably not something we have used to win games before. We’ve played a lot better in other games. But we were up against a good young side and we struggled with them passing the ball around us in the first half. We looked slow and sluggish. We had to keep changing things until we managed to find a solution.”
One solution was the introduction of Oban Anderson at half time, who added much-needed energy to the midfield. Tranent couldn’t get close enough as Hearts zipped it round and controlled the first half. Leon Watson’s sweet left-foot strike into the top corner and Scotland Under-17 international Rocco Friel’s close-range finish from a Murray Thomas cross – after an effective high press and turnover – had the Jambos 2-0 up at the break.
Tranent solved the problem by squeezing up and playing direct. When McGowan cut in from the left to steer a right-foot low shot into the corner in the 68th minute, Hearts wobbled and Tranent went for the kill. Piling bodies forward and peppering the box with crosses, the home team scored with a looping header from the excellent Somerville and Reid’s close-range finish, his fifth goal of the season.
“On another day we may well have lost, but it shows good character and that is one thing we can take from it,” added Nish. “It’s not always about pretty football. Sometimes physicality is what you need. Hearts have talented players, but you can win against young players by being stronger and more aggressive. Ultimately, that’s what made the difference.”
Steven Naismith, the Hearts B boss who played up front with Nish at Kilmarnock under Jim Jefferies, was proud of his young team, especially with so many players away on first-team duty in Spain.
“Half our team were 16 year olds,” he explained. “It is probably too early for them to play at this level, but with injuries and boys being away they got an opportunity and every one of them stood up to it.
“Tranent had nothing to lose and went for it. They bullied us. But we had a very young side, so as much as we are disappointed with the result, the performance was really good. The only thing the boys lacked was that experience of playing competitive football against men. For 60 minutes they stood up to it.
“Most of our players still tried to get on the ball and move it. Maybe not in this league or at this particular time, but that will hold them in good stead if they want to play in the Premiership in Scotland.”