Barrie McKay provides spark for Hearts to overcome Tranmere Rovers
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The winger fired home a superb right-footed equaliser from 20 yards into the bottom corner and then crossed for substitute Liam Boyce to head home the winner in the 2-1 victory at Prenton Park.
After an indifferent first-half display, the margin of victory could have been much more, Robbie Neilson’s men dominating the second half against the English League Two side.
The first of four matches against English opposition in 11 days was a decent workout and a noticeable step up in standard of opposition after pre-season matches in Scotland last week against part-timers.
Crawley Town, another League Two club, visit Tynecastle Park on Saturday before another midweek trip to Championship Preston North End and a home match against Stoke City before the cinch Premiership season begins.
Craig Halkett should have had some game time by then, but this match came too early for the central defender, who is building up his fitness after ankle surgery in the summer.
But Nathaniel Atkinson, making his first appearance after an extended summer break following his World Cup play-off success with Australia, looked like he has returned in good shape.
McKay, given 90 minutes after being protected last week from a niggling injury, was another to benefit from valuable game tine and got better as the game went on and Hearts pushed forward.
His best moment of the first half, after raking cross-field pass from Lewis Neilson, was a teasing low cross which presented Hearts with their only real chance of the first half. Euan Henderson, however, clipped it over the bar under pressure from a Tranmere defender.
McKay began on the left of a front three which also included youngster Connor Smith on the opposite flank and Henderson through the middle.
In a sign of the flexibility Neilson is looking for in the season ahead, Alex Cochrane started on the left of a relatively inexperienced back three that also included Toby Sibbick and Neilson.
Hesitancy in that area of the pitch and some slack passing early on had Hearts under pressure. Tranmere, who finished ninth in League 2 in former Dundee United boss Micky Mellon’s first season back in charge and included a number of summer signings, played on tbe front foot and sought to capitalise.
Cochrane had to make a crucial interception to cut out a dangerous cross before the home team opened the scoring in the 11th minute, a cross from the left headed into the ground and bouncing over goalkeeper Ross Stewart into the net by the unmarked Kane Hemmings.
It was the first goal Hearts had conceded in four pre-season and matches and indicative of higher-level opposition. Tranmere, who set up 3-1-4-2, were worthy of their 1-0 lead at the break.
Neilson made three changes, with Jorge Grant, Alan Forrest and Stephen Kingsley introduced, the latter playing as the middle man in the back three.
Forrest and Grant in particular made a big difference, injecting much-needed urgency and purpose. It was a much improved second -alf performance, Hearts controlling possession for large periods in Tranmere’s half and creating chances.
McKay’s equaliser in the 71st minute was superbly taken and his cross for Boyce’s header arrived just five minutes. Grant was denied what could have been a third by outrushing Tranmere keeper Ross Doohan.
Hearts (3-4-3): Stewart; Neilson (Kingsley 45), Sibbick (Darge 86), Cochrane (Mackay-Steven); Atkinson (Logan 86), Haring, Devlin (Grant 45), Halliday; McKay, Henderson (Boyce 67), C Smith (Forrest 45). Subs: Stone.
Referee: Ben Speedie.