Gary Mackay: Hearts is a tough balancing act

Brad McKay challenges Celtic's Temmu Pukki.  Picture: Ian Rutherford
Brad McKay challenges Celtic's Temmu Pukki. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Sadly, all Hearts-related matters seem rather insignificant today in light of the tragic deaths yesterday of the two young Edinburgh footballers, Jamie Skinner and David Paul.

All football rivalry goes out the window when you hear news like that. I have close links with Tynecastle Boys Club and I also know several of the Hibs youngsters, so I was deeply saddened upon learning what happened. My heart goes out to both families.

As for the football, Hearts’ trip to Celtic on Saturday was all about ensuring we weren’t rolled over, so in that regard it was mission accomplished. We stemmed the tide for over an hour, but ultimately Celtic have a quality about them that we can only dream of and it was always only a matter of time before they scored.

In relation to ensuring our morale remained intact going into the busy festive period, a 2-0 defeat was about as good as we could have hoped for. It was a very quiet atmosphere in the Celtic end, while the Hearts end reminded me of the late 1970s/early ’80s in the sense that the supporters who journeyed to Glasgow were there more in defiance than anything else. That’s a great mentality to have as fans because it means that they will turn up and back the team no matter how bad things get.

I’ve heard people say that that was the best shape Hearts have had this season, and they were very well-drilled. That’s all very well from a defensive viewpoint but it meant we were pretty much non-existent as an attacking force. In the cup game against Celtic, we tried to be a bit more attacking because we were at home and it was a one-off game, and we were picked off at will at the other end.

That’s the fine balance the management have been trying to get right in every game this season because being hard to beat and looking a threat at the other end is a tough ask, especially with a side that possesses no established strikers and a group of defenders who are still learning the game.

Few Hearts fans will tolerate us adopting the same defensive approach at home to Kilmarnock on Thursday. It’s all very well sitting in and defending for your lives at places like Celtic Park and Pittodrie when there is no expectation on the team, but, rightly or wrongly, the Hearts fans will expect to see us try to take the game to Killie on Boxing Day. That will automatically leave us more vulnerable at the back and will leave extra space for the top-scoring striker in the history of the SPL, Kris Boyd, to exploit.

In terms of our slender survival hopes, we are now entering a real critical period. We now face four bottom-six teams in a row in Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Hibs and Partick, so we have to hope our depleted squad can soldier on through this period and somehow pick up a decent share of the 12 points on offer from those four games.

Some people will look at the Kilmarnock game and say Hearts should be expected to beat them but you only have to look at the respective strikeforces to see how formidable a test it will be for Hearts. We can only dream of fielding a player with Boyd’s track record. How we overcome our lack of attacking threat is beyond me. We just have to hope that someone in maroon can step up to the mark and give us an edge in front of goal.

I’d like to finish by wishing all the embattled Hearts supporters a very merry Christmas at the end of what has been a horrible year for this proud club of ours.