Andy Halliday talks absence frustrations, Sunday's opponents and the excellence of Barrie McKay

Getting into the Hearts team is tough in season 2021/22, staying in it is just as difficult, so you can understand the frustrations of Andy Halliday that he’s been forced out of the line-up after each of his last couple of appearances due to unmitigated circumstances.

By Craig Fowler
Friday, 10th December 2021, 7:30 am
Andy Halliday is hoping to line up against his old side, Rangers, at Tynecastle for the first time
Andy Halliday is hoping to line up against his old side, Rangers, at Tynecastle for the first time

The midfielder, who can also operate on the left of defence, impressed at the beginning of the campaign as Hearts flew out of the traps with three victories in an undefeated four-game start to the league season and coasted through the group stages of the Premier Sports Cup. He played in every single one of those matches and the disappointing cup exit to Celtic at Parkhead.

Since then, however, his appearances have been limited. Alex Cochrane pretty much nailed down the starting spot at left wing-back, while Cammy Devlin arrived to take the club’s play in the centre of the midfield up another level.

When chances are at a premium they need to be grasped with both hands. Halliday felt he did that in the recent 2-0 victory over St Mirren at Tynecastle, starting in place of Cochrane after a couple of poor away performances by the team at Aberdeen and Motherwell. It was his first appearance since being harshly sent off at the conclusion of the defeat at the Pittodrie and he would’ve been in contention for a place in the line-up for last Thursday’s trip to Celtic Park, but for a freak, minor injury to rule him out of contention.

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Andy Halliday reacts to being sent off in the 2-1 defeat at Aberdeen as team-mate Barrie McKay watches on. Picture: SNS

“I just woke up last Wednesday with a strain in my neck from when I was sleeping,” Halliday told the Edinburgh Evening News. “I missed the next five days which happened to have two games taking place.

"I've been pretty good in my career in terms of my injury record. I've not had many in the last six or seven years.

“It was a really frustrating one because these were a couple of big games and I always feel December is a crucial time in the season. This is when you start to see a lot of separation in the league table.

"With the Aberdeen one, I didn’t think it came under excessive force. I always say there’s going to be force in a slide tackle, and there certainly wasn’t any malice. The ball was there to be won, Lewis Ferguson has just nicked it away from me. I thought it was harsh, especially as I’d only been on the park 10-15 minutes and it was my first foul.

Halliday backed hearts' move to bring in Barrie McKay

“I'm back in full training on Friday so hopefully I'll be in contention for the weekend.”

Sunday sees the visit of reigning champions Rangers to Tynecastle. It’s a side Halliday is much familiar with having played alongside the bulk of the team during his five-year spell at Ibrox, though there is an added wrinkle. Giovanni van Bronckhorst has replaced Steven Gerrard as manager of the club and four successive victories have been recorded with the Dutchman in charge.

As with any new manager coming in, Van Bronckhorst has looked to put his own stamp on the team and immediately shifted them out of the narrow 4-3-3 which was almost exclusively used under Gerrard into a 4-2-3-1 system.

"From the outside looking in, it's been a pretty faultless start. I watched their game against Dundee the other week and I thought they were excellent,” said Halliday.

“Since Van Bronckhorst has come in, they've started games really fast. We're obviously going to try and do the same being at home, so I think it should be an excellent game for the neutral. It's two good teams who've played well throughout a lot of the season.

“They're a very attacking team and what that does is leave areas to exploit. I think we've done that very well in our three games against Celtic and, now, Rangers line up pretty similarly with one winger staying wide and the two full-backs bombing up to support.

“They've obviously got a lot of very good players, guys like Ryan Kent, Alfredo Morelos, Ianis Hagi and Joe Aribo, who's probably been their key man this season. That's the front four, so the job is to keep them quiet while retaining our attacking threat as well.”

While it’ll be the first time Halliday has lined up against his old side at Tynecastle, the same is true of former Light Blues team-mate Barrie McKay. The winger has been Hearts’ in-form player of late, registering a hugely impressive 12 shot assists in the club’s last four games, including three in the narrow defeat at Celtic.

Halliday is happy with his old pal’s performances and even happier because he lobbied for Hearts management to sign the player.

“That had been going on since January and February where I kept getting on to the manager and [sporting director] Joe Savage,” he says with a smile. “To be fair, they knew about Barrie’s situation.

"He was somebody I played with at Rangers for a couple of years so I knew his quality. I knew that when he got older and more experienced then the consistency would come and he’d be a real asset for anybody.

"Since he’s come in he’s been excellent, especially over the last few games where he’s been a real asset for us and probably our main creative force. From now until the end of the season, any success we have he is going to play a big part of that.”

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