Gary Mackay: Ryan Stevenson key to Hearts’ hopes

Ryan Stevenson, right, played 75 minutes for Hearts against St Mirren. Pic: Jane Barlow
Ryan Stevenson, right, played 75 minutes for Hearts against St Mirren. Pic: Jane Barlow
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ONE of the few positives from the weekend was the return of Ryan Stevenson for Hearts. He gives us another option and I feel the boys have missed someone like him in an attacking sense. They’ve missed a John Sutton since he left and, hopefully, in two weeks’ time, that doesn’t come back to haunt us against Motherwell at Fir Park.

At least Ryan gives us an option as someone who can play through the middle and lead the line as a centre-forward. Callum Paterson has the physical presence to play in the Scottish Premiership, maybe not as a striker, but apart from him we don’t have any other options for that position. Ryan gives us some variation and it’s good to see him over his injury and fully fit again.

The lads we have up front are all smaller and quicker and maybe not quite ready for the physicality of top-flight football in Scotland. Stevenson coming back is a massive positive in that sense.

Also, he brings experience to the attack and there isn’t exactly a lot of that around right now. Only a few players are properly experienced in the league they’re playing in, so from that point of view Stevenson’s absence has been keenly felt. He knows the score, he knows the teams he is up against and he knows what is required to win.

As a professional player, someone like Ryan getting 75 minutes under his belt like he did against St Mirren is vital. The next fortnight will be good for him because he knows he’s back and he’s playing again at the level he’s capable of. He can look towards the Motherwell game, even though the result against St Mirren wasn’t a positive one. He will look to get a starting place in that match and play the full 90 minutes after training this week and next week. What position he is deployed in at Fir Park will be one issue that is of interest to me.

With the squad Hearts have, the numbers are so limited in terms of selection for Gary Locke. I don’t think any manager in Hearts’ history – even in the early 1980s when we had a really small squad trying to get out of the First Division – has had such a limited number of players able to play first-team football. The demands on these young players are just massive at the moment.

If I’m saying that from one game out of 11, that things are a wee bit flat, you would have to look at that as a bit of relative success and not too much to complain about. It would be fair to say that most of the team’s performances so have been energetic with plenty spirit and desire – exactly what we need if we are to survive this season with our top-flight status intact. That’s a testament to the enthusiasm of the youngsters and the togetherness fostered by the management.

Hearts have had a really intense start to the season and come through two hard League Cup ties against Raith Rovers and Queen of the South. They could easily have gone out of the competition in both those games and needed penalties to get through. We have two games left of the first quarter of the league and they are both massive matches away from home.

One of them is against a team that we can realistically catch, so the importance of that encounter at Kilmarnock can’t be overstated. The supporters have been behind us from minute one and they will see that we have gained points and recovered some ground on both Kilmarnock and St Mirren in the first quarter. If we can replicate that in each quarter of the campaign then it will go a long way towards helping us meet this challenge of overcoming the 15-point penalty and staying up.