Daniel Stendel inherits quite the rebuilding job at Hearts

German must rejuvenate underachievers

Monday, 9th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th December 2019, 1:38 pm

Over to you, Mr Stendel. You have inherited quite the rebuilding job. There will be no overnight fix at Hearts but, after returning to joint-bottom of the Ladbrokes Premiership with Saturday’s defeat at Motherwell, the positive is they cannot fall any further.

The appointment of a new manager was confirmed less than 90 minutes after the final whistle at Fir Park. Stendel, the 45-year-old German, officially begins work tomorrow, tasked with rejuvenating a seriously underachieving squad.

The Hearts players have spent much of 2019 flattering to deceive in the league and will surely be happier with the clarity brought by a permanent manager. Austin MacPhee’s six-game interim period yielded a win, a draw and four defeats.

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Referee Alan Muir separates the players

He now makes way for some German gegenpressing which is intended to lift the Edinburgh club up the table. The absolute priority is to avoid a catastrophic relegation to the Championship by whichever means necessary.

“We’d known who it was going to be for a wee while and I’m excited to see what he brings,” commented defender Michael Smith. “I watched Barnsley a few times when they won promotion last season and they looked like a good side, playing with a high press.

“If he can instil that in us then maybe we can go out there and perform and get results. We definitely needed a clean break and some new ideas. We are capable of going on a good run quite quickly if everyone buys into his philosophy and we get it going. Let’s hope so, anyway. We’ll be working hard on the training ground with him to try and put all of his plans into place.

“The new man will come in with some fresh ideas and maybe mix things up a little. We’ll see what he has to offer and I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

It remains to be seen what the Hearts owner Ann Budge decides regarding MacPhee and fellow coaches Jon Daly and Liam Fox. Stendel may even have a say. Smith has a close relationship with MacPhee, who helped lure him to Tynecastle Park from Peterborough United in summer 2017.

“It’s probably down to Ann and the new manager whether or not he [MacPhee] stays at the club. To me, he’s one of the good guys and he was the one who sold me on the club and brought me here so I haven’t got a bad word to say about him.”

The past few weeks have been testing for all concerned and Saturday was no different against an in-from Motherwell team. Chris Long’s first-half strike – after excellent dribbling and a cutback from winger Jermaine Hylton – propelled the North Lanarkshire club to third in the Premiership.

“They’ve been a good team this season, we’ve been up against it and they’ve come out on top,” lamented Smith. “When you’re in our position, it can be hard for players to put their foot on the ball and pass it. We tried to do that a bit. We did manage to get down the flanks and put some crosses in but we need to do that a lot more.”

This was a slightly better Hearts display compared with some recent offerings, it must be said. They passed the ball and switched play comfortably from defence into midfield, but in attack they missed a cutting edge. Second-half chances fell to striker Steven MacLean, substitute Uche Ikpeazu and Jamie Brandon to no avail. A stoppage-time red card for Jake Mulraney for dissent did not help the mood in the away camp at full-time.

Motherwell’s energy in attack was quite the contrast as Long, Hylton and James Scott sprang forward with pace at every opportunity. Smith challenged his Hearts colleagues to raise their game to that kind of level.

“Every single one of us needs to take a long, hard look at ourselves,” he said. “We have young guys in the team and this is a learning curve for them but this is professional football, it’s a man’s game. It’s tough but if they find themselves in the starting XI then they need to step up and perform.”

Motherwell (4-3-3): Gillespie; Grimshaw, Gallagher, Mugabi, Carroll; Campbell, Donnelly, Polworth (O’Hara 86); Scott (Cole 65), Long (Hartley 75), Hylton. Substitutes not used: Carson, Tait, Seedorf, Maciver.

Hearts (3-4-3): Pereira; Halkett, M Smith, Berra; Brandon, Clare, Whelan, Mulraney; Walker (Ikpeazu 58), MacLean (Keena 85), Meshino (Wighton 85). Substitutes not used: Silva, Dikamona, Bozanic, Irving.