Playing at St Helens’ rugby ground for Liverpool reserves means Murrayfield holds no trepidation for Connor Randall. The on-loan Hearts midfielder is excited preparing to train there today before tomorrow’s historic Ladbrokes Premiership fixture against Aberdeen.
It is the first ever domestic football match at the home of Scottish Rugby and a crowd of around 25,000 is expected. If the environs are unfamiliar, Randall is well prepared to cope. His experience of under-21 football at the brilliantly-named Totally Wicked Stadium in St Helens will be invaluable.
“I played at St Helens a few times for Liverpool reserves,” said the 21-year-old. “They were playing rugby on it at the time so it was a bit different. I don’t think they’re playing rugby at Murrayfield right now. A few of the lads who have been down say the pitch looks good. I’m just excited about it.
“It’s obviously different but, once the ball is on the pitch, the fans are in and the opposition are in front of you, it’s just another game of footy in a different place. That’s what it boils down to. We don’t need to concentrate too much on where it is and what’s going on. It’s a game of footy and we want to go and win it.
“We’re going there to train today and get a feel for it. Our ground isn’t ready yet so we’re all looking forward to playing there. I’m sure we’ll get great support tomorrow because the fans have been fantastic at the away games.
“The pitch won’t be too different. A football pitch is a football pitch. Obviously it will be good to get a feel for it but I don’t think it’s a massive factor. The ground is different because it’s not our home ground. We haven’t played any league games at home, they’ve all been away.”
This will be as close as Hearts get to a home match until at least November whilst Tynecastle’s new £12million main stand is finished. After four away matches to start the league campaign, tomorrow will be the first time Randall has played in front of a predominantly maroon crowd.
“It will be good for us to run out in front of more of our own fans,” he said. “They can come and watch the game and hopefully we’ll put on a good performance. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ll have more of our home fans with us and getting behind us.
“It’s not perfect to play every game away, but I’ve noticed in the away games that the fans who have travelled have been excellent. The support has been massive. Whether we’ve lost or won, they’ve still been there supporting us. The more the fans get behind us, the more it will spur the team on to play for them. The lads will be giving everything.”
The sequence of away games isn’t the only bizarre issue Randall has had to deal with since signing his season-long loan agreement. He is now working under his third different Hearts manager in two months after Ian Cathro’s sacking and Jon Daly’s four-week interim reign. Director of football Craig Levein’s decision to take the reins offers some much-needed stability.
“What’s been going on is obviously unique,” admitted Randall. “Craig’s in charge now so we’ll all get together. We’ve all been working hard together but we can really pull together now. Hopefully we can improve on the performances so far.
“Craig is good. You can tell when he talks because all the lads are listening. He knows what he wants and everyone will certainly work for him. We’ve got a good group of hard-working lads and we’ve seen that this week in training.
“You can tell Craig is a great manager with a lot of experience. I think he’ll be good for the club.”
The Hearts players have shown a certain degree of resilience in recent weeks but the sense now is that they feel more settled knowing who their manager will be long-term.
“There’s been a lot going on but you’ve got to concentrate on the things you can control. That’s the football – training and games,” said Randall. “You listen to whoever is in charge. Craig’s in charge now and we’ve had a great week of training – tough training – and all the lads are enjoying it. We’re excited because we work all week for the game.”
Has there been another proverbial “bounce” teams can often get when the manager changes?
“We’ve had it when Jon was in charge and again since Craig has come in. The training has been tough but everyone has enjoyed the atmosphere. We’re excited working for tomorrow’s game now.”
Randall has shown in four Hearts appearanes so far that he is a useful acquisition. His energy and tenacity in midfield complement the more technical skills of others like Arnaud Djoum and Prince Buaben.
He insists there is still more to come, and is eager to progress further over the coming weeks after the mangerial situation was clarified with Levein’s appointment.
“I’m getting fitter and stronger with each game,” he explained. “You know you’ve got to settle in and get used to the way the football is up here and the teams you play against. It’s good to have experienced a few games and I want to get settled in properly now.”
That starts tomorrow in a rugby stadium masquerading as a football venue. It’s all a very familiar scenario to Randall, though.