Hearts debrief: Rowles the rock; Kuol's golden chance; Kingsley frustration; Oda regrets?
A look back at Hearts’ 0-0 draw away to Livingston in the cinch Premiership at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
On a day when defences were on top, Kye Rowles was a rock at the back and the standout performer. The big Australian won everything in the air, made a vital block on Bruce Anderson in the first half and an even more important goal-line clearance after Steven Bradley had lobbed Zander Clark.
Gurang Kuol had only been on he pitch for two minutes when released one-on-one by Stephen Humphries through the middle. The Hearts fans were gathered behind the goal and it was all set up for the Australian wonderkid to slot home his first goal in maroon and bring home three points.
Alas, it was a golden opportunity spurned. Shamal George stayed up and Kuol hit his shot straight at the Livingston keeper when there were better options. It was encouraging to hear the teenager insist afterwards that being on the pitch for only a couple of minutes was no excuse, but it was a lack of quality at a vital time that summed up the match overall.
After that the 18-year-old forward showed enough, with his electric pace in behind, to suggest that he can be a huge asset for Hearts.
YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
Stephen Kingsley thumping the pitch in the 26th minute in frustration with himself after overhitting a long ball which sailed out for a Livingston goal-kick. It wasn’t the first time he had been let down by his trusted left-foot by overhitting in the opening quarter when Hearts had the wind at their backs. Maybe the artificial pitch itself and windy conditions contributed to his frustration. Either way, Kingsley was making his first start since Christmas Eve so can be forgiven. His quality is unquestionable and it was a big boost for Hearts to have him back.
It was scrappy game spoiled by the windy conditions and a sticky surface, forcing both teams to play for territory more than possession. A pass completion rate of around 60% for both teams in he first half told summed it up. Both struggled to string more than a few passes together in a war of attrition.
Hearts were more effective in the second half playing into the wind and using the pace of Stephen Humphrys and Gurang Kuol to threaten in behind. But both teams defended very well and a draw was probably a fair result.
BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT
Gurang Kuol made more of an impact and was more threatening than Yutaro Oda, who hasn’t started a game since November and was coming into an alien environment. Should the Australian have started instead? Robbie Neilson felt both did OK and has no regrets.
The number of changes – five in all – to his starting line-up was a surprise until he explained it. The factors that had a bearing on his decision were illness in the camp, the short turnaround ahead of the Rangers game on Wednesday, and how the artificial surface affects certain players with limited recovery time afterwards.
What the Hearts boss risked was disrupting momentum. But making five changes and drawing away to the team in fourth also underlined the strength in depth of this Hearts squad and provided good players with an opportunity to push for more regular game time.
Alan Muir was refereeing a Hearts game for the first time this season and got the big calls correct in a game devoid of too much controversy. Sure, there were some meaty challenges and a few yellow cards but little to complain about. He booked Jorge Grant for a dive and got it right.
He turned down what looked on first viewing like a decent penalty claim when Nicky Devlin challenged Kuol to deny him a scoring chance and send the Hearts forward sprawling, but replays showed the Livingston captain made contact with the ball. It was a good tackle.
Taking on Rangers on Wednesday night provides Hearts with the opportunity to chip away at Robbie Neilson’s next goal for the club – getting closer to the Old Firm. Rangers area unbeaten since Michael Beale took charge so it promises to be an intriguing contest.