Hearts debrief: Hendo's tackle; Another back three; Great from Grant; Pollock produces;
A look back at Hearts’ final natch in the group stage of the Europa Conference League, which ended in a 3-1 defeat away to Istanbul Basaksehir in Turkey.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Jorge Grant produced the type of performance the Hearts fans and manager will want to see more of. The Englishman, playing on the left side of a tight midfield three, demanded the ball, used it well, looked to play forward and was confident and inventive enough to try things. Hearts fans have seen glimpses of his talent since he signed in the summer from Peterborough United, but not often or consistently enough. He hasn’t established himself as an automatic pick in midfield as a result. This was much more like it. If he can play like that against a team as good as Istanbul Basaksehir, he can surely raise his game and make a bigger impact in the Scottish Premiership.
It would be easy to draw attention to the defensive lapses which resulted in goals, but for the 800 or so Hearts fans in a largely empty Basaksehir Fatih Terim Stadium the sight of young Finlay Pollock getting past his man and streaking down the left wing to set up a goal for Nathaniel Atkinson after Lawrence Shankland’s inventive shot was parried would have made their night. When you’ve gone all that way to support your team, all you want is to celebrate goal. It’s all the more special when it is created by an academy prospect who has signed a new contract and finished the campaign on a positive note.
YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
Euan Henderson was starting his first match for Hearts since April 2021. That was away to Raith Rovers when Hearts were in the Championship, Henderson scoring in a 4-0 win. He scored 18 goals on loan at Alloa last season, but here he was starting a European match in Istanbul against a top team. His early slide tackle on former Flamengo and AC Milan defender Léo Duarte, when the Brazilian was hoping to shepherd the ball out of play, was more Scottish Championship than Europa Conference League. But it was a strong, fair challenge. It showed that he wasn’t going to be overawed, wasn’t going to mess about and set the tone for a confident performance from a player who has not had much game time this season. The theatrical roll from Duarte was comical.
Lack of experience at the back was a problem for Robbie Neilson going into this game, which perhaps explains his decision to play Michael Smith as a right-sided centre-back in a back three that also included Toby Sibbick and Lewis Neilson. Injuries, of course, have decimated Hearts at the back and made it impossible to get any consistency of selection in an area of the pitch that benefits the most when the same player play week in, week out. Smith, Sibbick and Neilson in that order was yet another new combination and there hasn’t been much time to work on it on the training ground. They were brave enough to hold a high line so that Hearts didn’t fall into the trap of sitting off and defending passively as a team. But that high line broke down for the second goal, when Serdar Gurler sprung got in behind too easily. Questions will also be asked of the back three about how they allowed Youssouf Ndayishimiye a free header inside the six-yard box from a corner inside three minutes.
Hearts' focus for the remainder of the season is now on domestic action, with three big games before the World Cup break coming up over the next eight days. It starts with Motherwell coming to Tynecastle on Sunday, followed by a trip to Ibrox to face Rangers before Livingston come to Gorgie next Saturday.