Andy Halliday explains his 'overwhelming anger' after harsh words in Hearts dressing room
He also tends to impart a lot of sense within that honesty. So, when discussing his club’s recent form, Halliday’s opinions are valid, justified and considered despite his unmissable anger.
The last seven games have brought Hearts only one win inside 90 minutes. Cheap goals, hesitant defending and a lack of attacking panache are causing concern not just for Halliday. It is no coincidence that Craig Halkett’s absence from central defence began seven games ago.
The most recent reverse came on Saturday at St Johnstone. The hosts were allowed to play their way easily through Hearts’ rearguard for Ali Crawford to score inside the opening minute. After Nathaniel Atkinson’s quick equaliser, Jamie McCart’s rose unchallenged to head the winner early in the second half.
The Edinburgh club are third in the cinch Premiership with a nine-point advantage over those sitting joint-fourth – Hibs, Dundee United and Motherwell. It remains a comfortable position the envy of everyone below.
However, after three straight league defeats – the last two to clubs bottom of the table – frustration is building. Speaking exclusively to the Evening News, Halliday delivered a brutally truthful assessment of what is going wrong and what must happen to address the situation.
“I’m overwhelmed with anger. It’s not even just frustration, it’s anger,” he said in reference to the St Johnstone match. “We set up with a gameplan all week because we knew St Johnstone’s strengths were trying to turn us in behind and use set-pieces. Yet we concede two horrendous goals.
“The second goal is horrendous. It’s a 40-yard wide free-kick and somebody has six yards of space to just nod it in the far corner. That probably summed up the day.
“We are coming to tough venues where clubs, regardless if they are bottom of the league, they are fighting for their lives. You know what you are going to get from them and we didn’t match that at the start of both halves.
“We did well to get ourselves back into it, then we started the second half poorly again. After that we’ve got a mountain to climb. It doesn’t matter how much possession we had for the last 20-25 minutes because they were sat in trying to hold what they had.
“For me, we can’t be obsessed with trying to finish third. We’ve got to be obsessed with winning football matches. If you do that, you get what you want at the end of the season.”
After playing the final 25 minutes as a substitute at McDiarmid Park, Halliday felt there may be some colleagues not as switched on as they should be. “Concentration was the key for me. If you turn up, you see the pitch and don’t play well, it doesn’t matter as long as you get the points. Fundamentally, that’s the important thing,” he remarked.
“Because of the lack of concentration, we conceded two really poor goals. Our overall play was probably too similar to the previous week against Livingston in the cup where we were not creating enough chances.
“We were a hard, hard team to play against and score against at the start of the season. I don’t think we seem to have that same will and desire to keep clean sheets and win football matches, so there were some angry words in the dressing room and rightly so.
“I still firmly believe we are a good football team but we haven’t shown that over the last couple of weeks.”
As an experienced campaigner, Halliday knows supporters are nervous too. “I’m not one to just stand here and give words out because I don't think it will make the fans feel any better. It’s about actions. It’s about channelling anger in the right way because we haven’t been the same team as we’ve been all season.
“It’s the same group of players. We’ve probably strengthened during January so we need to get back to what we were doing at the start of the season. That’s being a hard team to beat.
“We went to St Johnstone to get three points, but when it’s 1-1 and you aren’t playing well, the absolute worst you come away with is a draw. Be a hard team to score against. I think we had the second or third best defensive record before the winter break. Since then we’ve shipped far too many poor goals.
“If somebody puts one in the top corner or shows a bit of magic to score against you, that’s fine. We are conceding cheap goals and that’s unlike us this season.
“Next we play St Mirren and they’re in good form. Every team in the league is playing for something, they are going to work as hard as possible to take points off us. You saw St Johnstone’s reaction and how much that win meant for them.”
Halliday is asked whether Hearts had relaxed after building a ten-point lead in third spot. “I don’t see that in training, but it would be quite easy to suggest that when you look at our games,” he replied. “If people are feeling that way then I’m not too surprised because I don’t see the same will or desire.
“It’s a long season and teams have blips but, for me, it’s a bit more than a blip because there are ways to lose football games. The last couple we’ve lost haven’t been great.
“Now it's about getting back to basics. I can sit here for an hour and say how good we were earlier in the season. Fundamentally, it was about doing the basics well – concentration, defending for your life, get the ball and use the ability we have.
“Getting back to basics is one of the most important things. If you are going to lose cheap goals, you won’t win games.”