Successive defeats against Hibs and Rangers leaves Hearts both licking and nursing wounds. Bruised by losses to rival teams in big games, their injury list continues increasing.
A hamstring problem sustained by Jamie Walker on Saturday means he joins Arnaud Djoum, Don Cowie, Prince Buaben and Ashley Smith-Brown in the treatment room.
Those in maroon are determined not to offer easy excuses. Kyle Lafferty’s sublime opening goal at BT Murrayfield was overhauled by Kenny Miller’s double and a convincing third from Josh Windass. Rangers made light of managerial turmoil with youth coach Graeme Murty in interim charge after Pedro Caixinha’s sacking. Miller was reinstated and given the captain’s armband, and he responded emphatically.
For Craig Levein and his players, two high-profile games in Edinburgh inside four days have ended sourly but no-one is wallowing in self-pity. “We aren’t using it as an excuse, but there are a few injuries to big players,” said Ross Callachan, the recent signing who is shouldering extra responsibility with key midfield colleagues absent.
“We have still got players to come back and we have a lot of home games coming up as well. We have had two poor results, but we just need to keep our heads up, focus on keeping going and training well and the results will come.”
Callachan could only rue being thwarted by Rangers goalkeeper Wes Foderingham at a critical point in Saturday’s match. Moments after Lafferty’s curling 25-yard free-kick opened the scoring, the midfielder sprinted on to Esmael Goncalves’ through pass to eyeball Foderingham. His shot from around 12 yards was expertly pushed to safety by the Englishman.
Had Hearts moved 2-0 ahead at that point – just after the half-hour mark – a Rangers recovery would have been improbable. “I won’t have sleepless nights about it but I am disappointed I never scored. You’re always disappointed when you have a chance and you don’t score,” lamented Callachan.
“You need to make the goalie work and I made the goalie work, but if I score and we go 2-0 up it’s a different game isn’t it? I am disappointed I never scored. I just need to keep working on my left foot. I am confident that if that had been on my right foot it is probably a goal. I just need to keep working hard and keep getting better.”
He only turned 24 last month but Callachan found himself something of an elder statesman in the Hearts midfield at the weekend. He and Walker were guiding 16-year-old Harry Cochrane and 19-year-old Lewis Moore through the action.
“When I was younger I was the same. I had older guys helping me through,” he explained. “If I can do that for young Harry, he is good enough. He is a good young player. He will get better with games. He has done well since he came in. Hopefully I can help him through along with other team-mates. The young boys are getting their chance with the injuries we have and they are doing well. When you get your chance, you have to take it.”
The teenagers’ presence in the starting line-up illustrated the lack of midfield options for Levein, who dropped Connor Randall, Euan Henderson and Jamie Brandon from the side which lost to Hibs.
Rangers were the stronger team on the day. They controlled midfield and frequently attacked down their right flank to put the Hearts left-back Rafal Grzelak under pressure. The moves which led to all three of the visitors’ goals came through from that area of the field. Miller’s wily instincts certainly helped after Murty brought him out of Caixinha-enforced exile.
Levein pointed to Walker’s injury on 52 minutes as a turning point in the match, with the scoreline even at 1-1. Callachan concurred. “We started the game well and went 1-0 up. The first 60 minutes were good. We gave ourselves a really good chance but going 2-1 down gets them back into the game.
“I think the change didn’t help us. When Jamie went off we had to change our shape. The gaffer had to do it. He didn’t have a choice but it didn’t really work. It is disappointing. We just need to stay positive. There are good things we can take from that game against a good Rangers side who were lifted by Kenny Miller coming back in.
“We knew their managerial situation. You always get a lift when there is a new manager. I thought they would start the game well, which I think they did. Once it settled down and we scored the goal, I thought we were the better team up until about 60 minutes.”
More than 14,000 Rangers fans made the journey to Edinburgh to form part of Hearts’ largest home league crowd since 1975. A total of 32,852 people were inside BT Murrayfield for Hearts’ third “home” fixture there whilst Tynecastle Park is redeveloped. Not surprisingly, Murty enjoyed hearing his name being chanted in the away end at full-time.
Murty is clearly a popular if understated figure. He admitted he wouldn’t refuse the chance to take charge at Ibrox permanently.
“I would find it difficult to turn it down, but I didn’t come north of the border to become Rangers manager,” he said. “I came to further my career and concentrate on being excellent and improving every day and where I end up will be a consequence of my personal standards on a day-to-day basis.”