Andy Halliday sets Hearts a 'far from impossible' challenge after the Edinburgh derby loss to Hibs
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A nine-game unbeaten run against Hibs ended at Easter Road as Hearts suffered a sixth straight defeat. Interim manager Steven Naismith took over after Robbie Neilson’s sacking last weekend, but familiar problems manifested in Leith. A lack of attacking verve and quality was the most obvious.
Kevin Nisbet’s volley after Paul Hanlon headed down a corner at the back post proved sufficient for Hibs’ first derby success since December 2019. The Tynecastle side faced up to the same issues as both pace and guile were missing.
“It’s where we are at the moment, I suppose. It’s been a really tough few weeks and an even tougher week,” admitted Halliday. “I thought the heart, desire, passion and work-rate were there, but probably not a lot of quality. I don’t think we did enough in the second half to score a goal. Conceding from another set-piece is obviously extremely disappointing. It’s been an Achilles heel for us throughout the season.
“I hope the fans see that this is hurting the boys as much as it’s hurting them. I know it’s probably hard to believe at times. We need to look forward, third place is still up for grabs and we want that European spot but we need to start picking up results fast.”
With six Premiership games remaining, Hearts are in danger of slipping out of the league’s European spots altogether having held a seven-point lead in third place as recently as February. Neilson paid the price for the demise.
“It’s difficult but it’s nothing we haven’t experienced in football,” said Halliday of the change. “Robbie is a great guy and a great manager. He's been the manager ever since I’ve been at the club but these things happen in football. It’s obviously really disappointing.
“I’ve got to give credit to the current staff and Naisy because there has been a really positive reaction in training. We were prepared and had plenty information so we knew what was expected from us, we just didn’t deliver in key moments. The final moment let us down in both boxes, really.
“He [Naismith] is looking for us to build from a structure out of possession, set triggers to try and press. We got into plenty areas without enough dangerous crosses, final passes or shots. I don’t think we tested David Marshall in the second half. He [Naismith] has got the backing of the players, he was a team-mate for a lot of us and we know his character. He will be hurting.”
Halliday admitted the Riccarton dressing room is low on confidence while stressing no-one has abandoned hope of finishing third despite Aberdeen sitting five points ahead. “It’s time for tough men and tough characters. I don’t think we’ve had a reaction to poor results in the last few games,” he conceded. “I thought there was a reaction on Saturday but not enough to win the game.
“You need to stand up and be counted. I’ve had worse situations in my career than this. We are five points behind with six games to go – far from impossible. We showed before we can pull a result and I know for a fact the fans are going to hate me saying that because we haven’t won in a number of weeks now, but that’s the reality.”