Austin MacPhee explains Hearts omissions for Sean Clare and Craig Wighton
Caretaker manager wants to get the best out of English midfielder
Hearts hope to prompt a reaction from their English midfielder Sean Clare after leaving him out of the matchday squad last weekend.
In his first game in charge at Tynecastle Park following Craig Levein’s dismissal, the club’s interim manager Austin MacPhee omitted Clare from his 18-man pool for the 5-2 victory over St Mirren.
The 23-year-old had featured in all but one of Hearts’ fixtures until that point, but had been suffering from a lack of confidence on the field.
Supporters had criticised him, prompting him to consult a sports psychologist to deal with the intense scrutiny. Hearts remain firmly behind Clare and MacPhee retains belief that he has the ability to regain his place.
He told the Evening News that he left the player out to see what kind of response he offers. “I believe Sean is a fantastic football player,” explained MacPhee.
“I was one of the people who watched him play for Sheffield Wednesday against Aston Villa [prior to joining Hearts]. At that time, he showed he had ability and huge potential.
“Part of my job just now is to get the most out of Sean Clare. One of the ways to go about that is maybe to leave him out for a week and see what kind of reaction I get.
“I believe there is a fantastic footballer there and this is my way of trying to bring that out. I’ve been asked to make these decisions at the present moment and this is one of the decisions I’ve made.”
Clare had started all five of Hearts’ previous matches and played the full 90 minutes against Rangers in the Betfred Cup semi-final the week before the St Mirren match.
He and forward Craig Wighton were both dropped from the starting line-up from that game. Wighton, the former Dundee player who has struggled with injury since joining Hearts in August 2018, made his first and only appearance of the season so far at Hampden. He has been recovering from knee surgery and MacPhee is conscious not to expect too much from the 22-year-old.
“Craig is still returning from injury. He did a massive workload against Rangers,” said MacPhee, who chose Steven MacLean over Wighton as a back-up striker against St Mirren. “I thought that Steven MacLean would help down the stretch a wee bit more than Craig as a potential substitute for Steven Naismith at the weekend.”
Hearts players trained under the watch of coaching staff Donald Park, Jon Daly and Liam Fox earlier this week and now have some time off. MacPhee is in Northern Ireland on international duty as part of national coach Michael O’Neill’s backroom team.
International fortnight gives those nursing niggling injuries a chance to recuperate and ready themselves for domestic business resuming next weekend, when Hearts face a difficult league trip to play Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.