Craig Levein is relishing his first pre-season as Hearts manager so he can make his team fitter and more confident in possession of the ball.
With the Tynecastle side looking set to finish an inconsistent and underwhelming campaign in sixth place in the Premiership, Levein, who took over from Ian Cathro at the end of August, is well aware that significant improvement is required in time for next season.
Coach Jon Daly had implied during his time in caretaker charge that the players weren’t as fit as they should have been at the start of the campaign, and Levein admits a shortage of fitness has been an issue. The manager is eager to see his team play with greater intensity and will use pre-season to ensure his players are in peak condition next term.
“The pre-season training is going to be hard,” Levein told the Evening News. “I don’t think we’re as fit as we should be, but it’s hard to fix that half way through a season. Pre-season has become really, really important for us. I’m looking forward to doing a hard pre-season and having the players feeling like they’re fit and that they’re capable of going for a season without feeling the effects of it. I’ve always had a high regard for players’ fitness and I think we can do more on that front, for sure.”
Levein will also use pre-season to develop a more fluent style of play. The manager wants his team to have a level of assurance on the ball that allows them to regularly reproduce the type of football that brought them their early goal against Dundee on Sunday, when Ross Callachan finished off a fine build-up which involved most of the Hearts players touching the ball. “It was a really good team goal,” said Levein. “We want to try and pass the ball like that but we’re not at that stage yet. People ask ‘why not’ but it takes time and it takes practice. You also need to be fully confident of taking the ball in tight situations.
“We’ve shown at times in the season we can do it, but when we take a knock, as we did on Sunday when we lost the goal, we can become a bit nervous. If you try to play out from the back when you’re nervous, that’s when it leads to mistakes. We need to grow our confidence a bit in pre-season by doing a lot of work on that.”
Meanwhile, Hearts’ development team face Motherwell at Forthbank at 2pm today.