DELIVERING an early-season report card on Hearts is fairly straightforward. The phrase “could do better” perfectly encapsulates the Edinburgh club’s league campaign to date, as manager John McGlynn candidly admits when the question is put to him.
He knows there have been points discarded carelessly in the Scottish Premier League and is duty-bound to do something about it.
McGlynn isn’t unduly concerned, however. He doesn’t lie awake at night sweating over Conor Pepper’s 90th-minute equaliser for Inverness in the 2-2 draw at Tynecastle in August. Nor is he frantic about Cillian Sheridan, a player he dearly wanted to sign, scoring a hat-trick in Kilmarnock’s 3-1 win there. McGlynn carries a sense of conviction about him in his day-to-day business, sourced from his belief that Hearts have actually played reasonably well in many matches.
Team performance at times has been cohesive and with a cutting edge, as demonstrated by impressive victories over St Johnstone and Dundee United – not to mention their inspired display at Anfield in the return leg of the Europa League play-off with Liverpool. One big problem has been converting chances into goals, and there appears no obvious answer.
McGlynn doesn’t hide from the facts. He is a realist. He knows his team’s failings and, upon setting foot inside Riccarton back in June following his return to Hearts from Raith Rovers, immediately stressed the need for more forwards. He has not been granted any by his superiors, but it isn’t McGlynn’s style to sit and grumble. He works with the tools available, commendably resisting the temptation to call for Rudi Skacel to be re-signed even when the Czech re-appeared to use Hearts’ training facilities during the international break.
There have been chances missed, mistakes made, and there will be more of the same as Hearts persist with their policy of promoting youth academy graduates to the first-team squad. McGlynn previously worked as a youth coach at Hearts for many years and knows the inconsistencies you get with young players. It is now his job to help them mature, develop and learn at senior level. Progress is gradual, but the manager sees reasons to feel encouraged.
The underlying grievance is that Hearts do not have more league points. Motherwell visit Tynecastle this weekend as domestic business resumes following international week. They will face a team sitting ninth in the SPL with nine points from nine matches and only two wins. Such is the lack of disparity in Scotland’s top flight that Hearts, though firmly in the bottom half, are also only six points off second place. McGlynn believes narrow margins have gone against his team too often and feels their efforts deserve greater reward.
“It would be a case of ‘could do better’ up until now and I can’t deny that,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “We’ve shot ourselves in the foot, but I see loads of positives, loads of belief and a team working their socks off. That gives me belief that we will get the results our play deserves.
“You can see we’ve got a settled core of players. It’s about getting the balance right in one or two areas. That’s what we’re striving to achieve to get consistency. I do believe we’re getting consistency of performance but not necessarily in front of goal. That’s what we need to strive to achieve and it will only come with hard work and a wee bit of composure. If we keep creating chances, the goals will come. I’ve got absolutely no doubt about that. The goals will come.
“I do feel aggrieved that we don’t have more points to show for our performances. That said, I can’t deny that it’s through our own doing that we haven’t got more points because we haven’t killed teams off. Or we’ve let teams come back when they shouldn’t have been allowed to. The two key games in that respect are Dundee, where we lost an early goal and couldn’t turn it round, and Inverness, when we lost a two-goal lead against ten men. We lost five points in total in those two games, which would have made a massive difference to where we are right now.
“I do still believe we should have taken more against Kilmarnock, but instead we got nothing. There have been one or two others as well. I do believe we should have taken more points and I don’t think I’m looking through maroon-tinted glasses. That’s what I honestly think. We created enough chances and that’s not counting the game against St Mirren, for example, where I think if we’d scored first we would have won the game. A number of points have gone missing which we should have had. I believe we can pick those points up in the weeks and months to come.”
McGlynn’s philosophy has been dictated by the players at his disposal and is unlikely to alter given his feeling that Hearts are not far away from clicking. Two wingers have been regular features in the team even after David Templeton’s departure to Rangers and the manager is determined to continue allowing his creative players licence to thrill.
“We have got these players and when I came in I had to go with what I inherited,” he explained. “We don’t have loads of strikers, but we did have plenty wingers. When I arrived we had David Templeton as well as the ones still here. The team is set up and the three in the middle of the park are set up in that manner, to play with wingers. It fitted the jigsaw puzzle that I had to work with. I keep saying to the players that we aren’t far away and I genuinely believe that. When it clicks, we could easily go on a three-game, four-game or five-game winning streak. This team is capable of doing that.”