GARY LOCKE and Darren Murray will saunter down the Tynecastle tunnel into a golden opportunity at 2.55pm tomorrow. The chance to manage Hearts’ first team, even on an interim basis, gives two ambitious young coaches the chance to demonstrate their credentials at the top level. As dyed-in-the-wool Jambos, both will be out to maximise the opening created by John McGlynn’s exit.
Motherwell are the visitors for a game which assumes added significance just 48 hours after McGlynn left the building. Locke and Murray were placed in interim charge of Hearts yesterday morning having been asked to steady the ship after four successive league defeats. More than that, they are in command of their own destiny as the men in possession of the dugout for now.
Locke, a former club captain, holds a UEFA Pro-Licence and has coached at Riccarton under Jim Jefferies, Paulo Sergio and McGlynn. At 37, he already has considerable experience given the financial problems and squad restructuring undertaken by Hearts recently. Wage delays, player exits and even the threat of the club closing failed to faze him. Now he has the chance to show his coaching and management skills and help drag his team up from the lower regions of the Scottish Premier League.
Murray, 42, is regarded as one of Scotland’s brightest young coaches. He is eager to test himself in management and will be excited at the prospect of doing so at Hearts. After coaching the club’s youth teams on a part-time basis for many years, he joined full-time in 2007 and left his job with Royal Mail. He is currently studying for his Pro-Licence with Hearts likely to foot the £4000-plus bill. They clearly rate him highly. Murray is already familiar with the first-team squad, most of whom he developed within the academy. He has attended most first-team games this season as an observer, sitting in the stand and passing on information to McGlynn and Locke during the 90 minutes. At youth level, he showed he is tactically very adept and likes to play a short-passing game based around ball retention and quick movement. He favours formations of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3.
Appointing an interim management team provides continuity whilst the Hearts hierarchy search for McGlynn’s permanent successor. Nonetheless, the prospect of Locke and Murray remaining in place should not be dismissed. Both have the ability to motivate players and can be expected to show enthusiasm and imagination. They will manage players as people as well as coach them on football matters.
Their biggest task may lie in lifting morale within the dressing room following a dispiriting run of results. Defender Danny Wilson offered an insight into the atmosphere within the camp today by admitting the players are embarrassed by their recent performances. Four consecutive defeats leave the club second bottom of the SPL. Wilson, on loan from Liverpool, stressed it is simply unacceptable.
Motherwell recorded a satisfying midweek win over Celtic whilst Hearts succumbed to a 2-0 defeat at St Mirren in what proved to be McGlynn’s last game as manager. That result followed losses to Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Inverness. Wilson explained how he and his colleagues are hurting and must start taking responsibility on the field.
Much has been made of the fact the first-team is now dominated by young players fresh out of the aforementioned academy, but Wilson feels that cannot be continually be used as an excuse for bad results. Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, he demanded everyone stand up and be counted to bring an end to the malaise, starting tomorrow.
“One result isn’t going to make a season. These last four losses are not good by anybody’s standards and especially not by Hearts’ standards,” said the Scotland centre-back. “The sooner we can rectify it, the better. We’re hurting in the dressing room right now and we’re embarrassed by the last few performances. We need to get out there tomorrow, get a win in front of our fans and make sure they keep backing us.
“You can use the age of our team as an excuse but these guys are all Hearts first-team players now. Everybody needs to step up and take responsibility, myself included.“You go on these runs at times, it’s part of football. We haven’t been a million miles away with some of our performances. However, goals change games. We haven’t got them at the right times and other teams have. If we get a couple of good performances we will get ourselves going again. I don’t really think about anything else. I’ve been at Rangers and I’ve been at Liverpool. I’m at Hearts now and that’s my sole focus.
“I think one win could change everything for us. We were a minute away from beating Ross County up there and look how well they’re doing now, sitting in the top four and doing great. It’s just that little break you sometimes need in football and we’re not getting it right now. The sooner we can do that, the sooner we can start climbing the table.” Ryan Stevenson is expected to return to the team tomorrow after serving a three-match suspension. His experience has been missed in midfield, although the biggest questions in recent matches have surrounded the defence. Set-pieces and cross balls have caused havoc at times and the Hearts back line has had to change almost on a weekly basis of late due to injuries and suspensions.
The latest alteration saw Darren Barr return to right-back with Fraser Mullen left in the stand at New St Mirren Park. Barr conceded a penalty after just three minutes, though, and was replaced by Dylan McGowan at half-time. “It was a bad penalty to give away and that set the tone for the first half,” admitted Wilson. “We never really got going and then they scored a wonder goal to go 2-0 up (through Graham Carey).
“There wasn’t a lot in the game but St Mirren scored those two goals. We had a lot of possession but didn’t really go anywhere with it and never really caused them much trouble. We’re bitterly disappointed. We went to St Mirren looking to get ourselves on a run and again we weren’t able to do it. We need to pick ourselves up. We can keep saying that but we need to start bringing it out on the pitch.”
Motherwell’s dynamic forward line is one of the last Hearts would wish to face as their new interim management team look to settle in and end a run of poor form. Michael Higdon has lashed 19 goals in 33 games this season and is in the form of his life. Even accounting for the loss of Jamie Murphy to Sheffield United in January, the Lanarkshire side pose an attacking threat which only Celtic could better in the SPL.
That said, they have failed to score against Hearts in both meetings between the clubs this season. “Motherwell are a good side and everyone knows there are no easy games in this league. Anybody can beat anybody,” said Wilson. “They’re coming to our home ground and we need as many wins as we can get there. We’ll have the home crowd and they always get behind us. Even last week when we lost 3-2 to Inverness, the fans were still there until the final whistle. That support can help us but we need to start repaying the faith they are showing in us.
“I don’t think you can make special plans for anyone. They have Ojamaa and Humphrey who are capable of changing games. Higdon is in good form just now and we will study him. We can’t focus on just one of their players, though. We need to look at ourselves firstly.”