Hearts B take Edinburgh City scalp with 3-4-3 shape, Steven Naismith in the dugout and Robbie Neilson watching on
With Steven Naismith joining John Rankin in the dugout, Mihai Popescu in the centre of defence and Robbie Neilson watching on, they ran out 1-0 winners at Ainslie Park thanks to a Euan Henderson penalty in front of 272 fans.
From the moment the teams lined up for kick-off there was an interesting dimension at play. While Edinburgh City were in a 4-4-2 system, Hearts were in the 3-4-3 which has become the default at first-team level.
Early on, the visitors imposed themselves on proceedings. Aidan Denholm and Scott McGill, one of the more physically developed individuals in the Hearts team, were charged with getting on the ball with the three centre-back spread wide, Sean Docherty and Leon Watson providing the width. Connor Smith and Henderson buzzed about Mackenzie Kirk.
City handled Hearts, limiting them to a long-range McGill effort which zipped past the post.
Popescu, who had earlier calmly lifted the ball over his head under pressure on the edge of his own box, soon became the protagonist. In the 20th minute the Romanian smashed a cross field pass into the path of Docherty who in turn set up Mackenzie Kirk, only for Stephen Bronsky to produce a brilliant block.
That Bronksy block was bettered by goalkeeper Brian Schwake. Days after being the hero in the 1-0 League Two win over Stenhousemuir, the on loan Livi ace denied Popescu with a reflex save after the centre-back met a Connor Smith cross. The ball squirmed away at one point but his long arm pulled it back from creeping over the line.
City were forced into a change with Callum Crane being replaced by former Hearts midfielder Callum Tapping. His influence was immediate, bringing control and direction to Edinburgh. He split the visiting defence with a perfect pass to set up Ouzy See. Liam McFarlane got enough on his effort before the ball broke and See’s cross was diverted off the base of the post by Arran Darge.
See went close again from a corner before Hearts took the lead on the stroke of half-time. Popescu, inexplicably in the City box, was felled by Bronksy and Henderson sent Schwake the wrong way with a cool penalty.
The interval acted as a time for City to regroup. They started the second half strongly with McFarlane under pressure in the Hearts goal and Hilton zipping a shot over.
Moments later McIntyre burst from left-back and showed the feet of an established winger to create space but his shot flew wide.
City’s best chance came from a Bronksy header after he evaded Popescu but he could only direct it over.
With Naismith cajoling, encouraging and directing from the sidelines, the second half for Hearts involved the gritter side of the game. Defending, tracking runners, keeping shape, pressing and using the ball efficiently.
They did put together one of the best phases of play, complete with off the ball running and one-touch football, involving McGill, Denholm, substitute Murray Thomas and ending with Kirk firing wide.
Despite late pressure from City, Hearts B held on for a deserved win.