Rankin stepped in with with first-team coaches Robbie Neilson, Lee McCulloch and Gordon Forrest absent due to Covid-related issues. Five positive tests at Riccarton this week caused the postponement of Friday night’s friendly at Berwick Rangers, but Saturday’s trip to Prestonfield went ahead.
It brought a comfortable Hearts victory with highly-rated teenager Harry Stone starting in goal. Frenchman Damour, out of favour since March 2020, made an unexpected appearance in central midfield against East of Scotland League opponents.
Several youngsters spent the close season working on fitness programmes at Riccarton and some of them were also involved – Connor Smith, Finlay Pollock and Euan Henderson. Fresh from penning a permanent contract at Tynecastle Park, Josh Ginnelly took the field for the second half with the visitors already 4-0 ahead.
Around 500 supporters were in attendance at Prestonfield and enjoyed a chance to watch their respective teams in person for the first time in more than a year.
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As expected, Hearts made the initial running and almost scored early when the Rose captain Gary Thom deflected a cross against his own crossbar. When they did strike, it was a sublime Finlay Pollock effort. His quick feet produced a clever jink away from Scott Stevenson and Arnie Kasa before an arcing right-footed finish over goalkeeper Lewis McMinn.
On 19 minutes, Liam Boyce doubled the scoreline from the penalty spot after a skillful driving run by Connor Smith drew a foul from Linlithgow’s left-back Cammy Thomson. Five minutes later, Boyce turned provider with a low pass for the onrushing Smith to smack low into the bottom corner.
Boyce converted another penalty for the fourth on the half-hour after Kasa impeded Gary Mackay-Steven. Stone was largely untroubled during the first half but did spring into the air for an excellent fingertip save on 44 minutes to thwart Thomson’s 25-yard attempt.
Rankin sent out an entirely different team for the second period as an even younger teenager, Liam McFarlane, replaced Stone in goal. Hearts’ dominance continued, nonetheless. Three minutes in, left-back Macaulay Tait sprinted forward to cross for Armand Gnanduillet’s prodded finish into the Rose net.
Ginnelly had spent five months out injured with a ruptured hamstring sustained during last term’s season-long loan at Hearts. This was his first outing since surgery and he showed glimpses of the pace and trickery that endeared him to supporters.
Gnanduillet’s late header from Sean Docherty’s cross clipped a post, then substitute Makenzie Kirk controlled Mihai Popescu’s long ball and slotted a composed finish past McMinn.
The final whistle sounded with the scoreline reading 6-0. It was a straightforward way for the Tynecastle side to begin preparations for season 2021/22, although more severe tests await as competitive action begins in the Premier Sports Cup in two weeks’ time.
Linlithgow (4-2-3-1): McMinn; Stevenson, Thom, Brownlie, Thomson; Kasa (Trialist 83), Cairns; Hare, Watt, Trialist; Coyne (Wilson 63).
Hearts first half (4-2-3-1): Stone; M Smith, Haring, Darge, Watson; Damour, Halliday; C Smith, Pollock, Mackay-Steven; Boyce.
Hearts second half (4-2-3-1): McFarlane; Docherty, Souttar, Popescu, Tait; Walker, McEneff (Kirk 69); Ginnelly, Henderson, Schiavone; Gnanduillet.