Hearts debrief: Humphrys blunder; Tactically outfoxed; Blunt attack
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PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Craig Gordon pulled off two Gordonesque stops, first to deny Kurtis Guthrie from scoring with an audacious back-heel attempt and then to fingertip a Scott Pittman rocket over the bar. He couldn’t do much about the goal, his team trying but failing to keep a high line when defending a free-kick. The veteran goalkeeper was one of the few to get pass marks on a day when Hearts were poor all over the pitch.
The Livingston goal summed up where Hearts are at the moment. Slack and unsettled. The defence has had to chop and change due to injuries. And striker Stephen Humphrys was a deadline day signing due to injuries. The result was an organisational mix up when attempting to defend a set piece. Hearts tried to step up and keep a high line but new signing Humphrys, only just in the door and yet to train with his teammates, didn’t get or heed the message as back man and played everyone onside. That left Cristian Montaño with time and space to control and slot home with ease.
Robbie Neilson went 3-4-3 against Kilmarnock, but changed to a 4-2-3-1 for this one. The outcome was the same, Hearts passive in the final third of the pitch and created nothing. The visitors had just six shots from 64 per cent possession and none on target. Livingston, by contrast, had six shots on target out of 12 attempts from just 36 per cent possession. It was a decent start from Hearts, but the opposition managed the game better from the 16th minute onwards and won the tactical battle. David Martindale started 4-4-1-1 but switched to 4-3-3 after an opening 15 minutes controlled by Hearts. It gave Livi an overload in central midfield and pinned back the Hearts full-backs, with Toby Sibbick and Lewis Neilson finding it difficult to deal with Joel Nouble as a battering ram left winger. Hearts had no answers. Barrie McKay, who started on the right before switching positions with Jorge Grant to fulfil the No10 role, was just not as his fluid and penetrating best. Neilson’s tactic of playing long cross-field balls to the left wing was effective early on but became too predictable and Livingston learned how to deal with it.
YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
When Alex Cochrane fizzed in a low cross midway through the first half, Ato Obileye looked to be perfectly placed to cut it out at the near post and clear his lines. But the Livingston centre-back inexplicably took a swing and miss like a 36-handicap golfer on edge of his six yard box and his fresh air clearance attempt could have presented Hearts with a golden opportunity. Alas there was no-one in a maroon jersey positioned in the poacher’s zone between the posts six yards out to capitalise. When they are struggling to create chances of their own, Hearts need to capitalise on such mistakes.
Willie Column’s assistant got the big call correct by not raising his flag when Livingston scored. The Hearts defence were furious at the time but none of them had seen Stephen Humphrys, the signing defending as the back man in the defensive line, failing to step up with the rest. Stephane Omeonga was perhaps unfortunate to be booked after Gary Mackay-Steven backed into him and fell over. Three other home players and Cammy Devlin and Lawrence Shankland of Hearts were also booked and could have no complaints.