Hearts debrief: Sibbick the lion; Better atmosphere; Grant's back-heel;
and live on Freeview channel 276
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Toby Sibbick grew in confidence and stature as the game went on and was quite clearly given a massive boost by the fans who sang his name for the last 15 minutes or so. The same fans who have been very critical of his recent performances must have read in recent interviews how the criticism has been affected him and did everything in their power to give him a lift.
The centre-back defended with the type of aggression, authority and assurance that has been lacking in previous displays. Chest puffed out in the last 20 minutes, in particular, he was a lion. With Stephen Kingsley limping off, Sibbick has come good at a time when Hearts really need him. His best performance yet for Hearts? Definitely.
Let’s go for Sibbick again. A few weeks ago Robbie Neilson was picking anyone other than him to play centre-back. The Englishman, quite simply, looked like a bag of nerves. But he made a confident start up against an awkward opponent in RFS striker Andrej Illic and stood up to the test. He won the battle and, incredibly, had the fans singing his name from all four corners of the ground. Then came the moment.
Illic suddenly found a few yards of space on the inside left channel, ran in behind and began spearing in on goal. Sibbick had given him a four or five-yard start but, confidence soaring as the fans bellowed out his name, charged back, eating up the ground as he went. He caught Illic, gave him a bump but was controlled enough to say on his feet as he made he challenge to regain possession before turning to play a simple pass and get Hearts going forward agains. The fans lifted the roof off in appreciation. What a moment for the defender.
YOU MAY HAVE MISSED
Hearts are getting as much as they can out of the new big screens, getting interactive before the game by posting social media messages from fans. They did miss out the message before kick-off that Hearts and RFS were both already out of the competition before a ball had been kicked as a result of Fiorentina’s win over Istanbul Basaksehir, but wisely perhaps. The atmosphere in the stadium, which sometimes fails to live up to its ‘hostile’ reputation, was as good as it’s been all season.
Jorge Grant’s audacious, delicious back-heel reverse pass to Lawrence Shankland in front of both dugouts came just after Hearts had gone two up, filling him with enough confidence to give it a try. It worked to perfection, taking three RFS players out of the game and the fans lapped it up.
Hearts made such a fast start it looked like they were going blow RFS away. The passing was crisp and quick. They looked to go forward at every opportunity and the rotations in midfield and attack had the Latvians on the back foot. The straightforward 4-3-3 shape working well for Hearts initially.
The visitors, however, changed their shape to get a foothold and got themselves back into it. The visitors can take some credit, but Hearts seemed to slow the game down rather than maintain the high tempo and slick passing that had been so effective. After six games without a win in all competitions it was all about getting over the line and Hearts managed the game well enough in the second half to get the job done.
Belgium’s Bram Van Driessche was firm but fair, handing out a red card to Vitalijs Jagodinskis deep in stoppage time for a brutal tackle on Euan Henderson. It was a night relatively free of controversy.
Hearts face a long trip north to Dingwall on Sunday to take on Ross County in a cinch Premiership fixture that they will be expecting to pick up points. Then there’s an even longer trip at Robbie Neilson’s men wrap up their European campaign away to Istanbul Basaksehir in what is now a dead rubber. With Stephen Kinglsely joining Craig Halkett and Kye Rowles on the injury list it looks like Toby Sibbick and Lewis Neilson will be the central defensive partnership.