Gary Mackay: ‘Hearts can’t let Dundee United open up a five-point lead at this stage’

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ONCE AGAIN at Hearts we are left lamenting a lack of cutting edge. This seems to have become a common theme over the past few years. We lacked punch at St Mirren on Saturday and the front area of the park is becoming a real concern.

We had three relatively young players in attack on Saturday but we struggled to make inroads.

The loss of David Templeton will be felt, and we’re already feeling the loss of Ian Black and Rudi Skacel. The departure of these guys has left a massive void in terms of creativity and goalscoring and it’s one which we’re really struggling to fill.

Our only recognised striker, John Sutton, was on the bench on Saturday, but I think we need to find a way of playing to his strengths. The season before last, Sutton was the top scorer in the SPL outside the Old Firm so he’s clearly a capable striker. But if we want to get the best out of him we need to get bodies round about him the way Motherwell did. I’d be inclined to try Sutton up front alongside young Callum Paterson.

I’ve got massive sympathy with John McGlynn, though. He has so many dilemmas to solve in terms of replacing players who have departed since last season.

Despite our recent difficulties, I think we still have to be aiming for the upper echelons of the league. Yes, everyone knows it’s going to be tough as we are in the midst of a transitional period. But would you swap our back four – with three internationalists in there – for any other back four in the league? I don’t think you would. When you’ve got that solid base to work from, you then have to look at ways to make things happen at the other end of the pitch. John McGlynn knows it’s a problem that needs to be addressed as he has spoken about it often enough. When you lose your main creative midfielder as well as your biggest goal threat and then lose someone like Templeton who provides good quality from the wide areas, it’s always going to be difficult.

But somehow we need to string together a run of results and performances because I think we are struggling more than most to find our feet this season.

Coming after the international break, Saturday’s game was particularly disappointing.

I could understand a slump in the games immediately after each of the ties against Liverpool, but we’ve now had a good bit of time to get those games out of our system, so we can’t use that as an excuse any more.

We did okay early on in Paisley, but as soon as you lose the first goal in any match, you’re always up against it after that. St Mirren are a side heading in the right direction, so there was maybe a feeling beforehand that a defeat for Hearts was a possibility. Having said that, of our two back-to-back away games after the international break, I think it’s fair to say most people would have felt we’d be more likely to get points at St Mirren than we would at Dundee United this weekend, so that certainly doesn’t bode well. In light of losing on Saturday, the trip to Tannadice becomes really important because we really can’t afford them to be opening up a five-point gap on us at this stage of the season. The one bonus for us as we head to Tayside is that it looks like they’ll be missing Gary Mackay-Steven and Jon Daly again. Those are two massive players for them and without that pair they certainly don’t carry the same goal threat.

We already have two teams who we should be more than capable of competing with, in the shape of Motherwell and Hibs, a good bit ahead of us, so we need to be careful not to be cut adrift. It’s imperative that we hang in there over the next few weeks.