Hearts manager will continue with one striker

Hearts striker Michael Ngoo grapples with Daniel Devine of Inverness. Picture: Toby Williams
Hearts striker Michael Ngoo grapples with Daniel Devine of Inverness. Picture: Toby Williams
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JOHN McGLYNN intends to continue using one central striker for the foreseeable 
future despite increasing criticism from Hearts supporters. The manager is aware of public unrest after three successive league defeats but remains convinced that his 4-3-3 formation should stay.

Hearts’ 3-2 home loss to Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday brought jeers from home fans at Tynecastle and open calls for a change of tactics with the club languishing in tenth place in the SPL. Michael Ngoo at centre-forward with a winger on either side often left the imposing Englishman isolated. With John Sutton and Gordon Smith on the substitutes’ bench, fans want two strikers deployed together through the middle.

In a candid interview with the Evening News, McGlynn explained his own philosophy and why he wants to stick with the tactics he has used for most of the season. “What happens is, if you put more players up front it just congests things and there is sometimes not enough space. It can be difficult for someone to make an impression,” he said.

“It’s not as simple as just throwing bodies on up front and, hey-ho it’s magic. The game revolves around space and sometimes, by putting more forwards on, you clutter up the space and it’s maybe even easier to defend against. We played two up front in the second half of our previous game against Kilmarnock and we lost two goals, so it’s not necessarily about that.”

One of those adept at creating and using space well is 19-year-old Jason Holt. The midfielder scored his second goal of the season against Inverness and has established himself as a key player for Hearts in recent weeks. He is certain to start against St Mirren in Paisley tomorrow evening and appears to have benefitted more than most from McGlynn’s recruitment of Ngoo on loan from Liverpool last month.

“Jason has had an excellent period,” continued McGlynn. “We took him off against Kilmarnock to gamble and play 4-4-2 in the second half. He’s a technically gifted football player and his goal on Saturday was excellent. He is a player who can go and find space, run into space and create space. He gets on the ball, links up and plays passes. He scored at the weekend and he scored at Parkhead a few weeks back, albeit with a bit of a deflection. I’m sure he’ll take confidence from those goals.”

Holt wasn’t the only Hearts player to impress on Saturday despite the 3-2 reverse. Kevin McHattie, recalled at left-back having been dropped following the 4-1 defeat by Celtic on January 19, looked far more assured after a brief mid-season rest. “We had a lot of good performances on Saturday and Kevin McHattie was one of them,” said McGlynn. “He made a slight error as our last defender when he hit the ball against one of their players, who nearly went through and scored. Generally, Kevin acquitted himself very well and I’ve got plenty confidence in him.

“It was good to get Danny Wilson in at left centre-back and I thought him, Andy Webster and Kevin did exceptionally well. Kevin was out of the team for a few weeks but he got himself back in. He’s one for the future.”

McGlynn admitted Hearts’ defending is giving cause for concern with captain Marius Zaliukas out for the rest of the season through injury. Eleven goals have been conceded in the last four matches, with all three Inverness strikes coming from set-pieces on Saturday.

“Zaliukas is a big player for us,” said the manager. “Is it a coincidence we’re losing goals? We’re also without Ryan McGowan and Danny Grainger. That was a very solid back four and it’s not there now. When it comes to set-pieces, we’re all defenders. I’m not shifting the blame purely on to our back four because that’s not necessarily the case. Zaliukas is the type of guy who would stick his head on a ball at set-pieces.”

Tomorrow evening’s match with St Mirren is likely to have little bearing on the forthcoming Scottish Communities League Cup final between the two clubs, for both managers are certain not to reveal any secrets in terms of team selection. In a squad dominated by teenagers and young boys fresh out of the Riccarton youth academy, McGlynn has few options to freshen up his side in any case.

Players like Holt, McHattie, Jamie Walker, Callum Tapping, Fraser Mullen, Billy King, Callum Paterson and Dale Carrick have all stepped up from the youth team to become first-team regulars this season. That leaves Hearts’ under-20 squad rather threadbare and 
McGlynn admits he has plundered the youth ranks so extensively that few others are left.

“There’s not that many now. To be honest with you, we’re running out of them,” he explained. “Darren Murray (under-20 coach) doesn’t necessarily have a big squad so there aren’t that many more. I wouldn’t shut the door on anyone. Any player who impresses between now and the end of the season has an opportunity and hopefully they see it like that.

“There are still some, like Brad Mckay and Denis Prychynenko who could possibly break in somewhere along the line. They are roughly the same age as the guys who are in the team at the minute. Younger than them, there is Adam King who has potential and Sam Nicholson who has potential. There are a few there but we are going well down the age levels from the players who are in the team.”

McGlynn is already scouting potential summer recruits, with Hearts hoping the SPL will lift the signing restrictions imposed late last year as a result of paying wages late. The Edinburgh club were only allowed to sign under-21 players on a one-in-and-one-out basis during January’s transfer window, but McGlynn is planning ahead with next season in mind.

“I’m still taking in games down in England. I’m down at under-21 games on Monday nights and we look at games all the time. From now till the end of the season, we’ll be inundated with agents recommending players. That’s the way it is. There is nothing concrete but we’re looking all the time.”