How Ryotaro Meshino showed he can be the difference maker for Hearts in the win over Hibs
Ryotaro Meshino was handed his first start for Hearts in the Edinburgh derby win over Hibs. Joel Sked analyses his performance.
The Edinburgh derby was just entering the 90th minute when Hibs had a throw deep in their own half. Lewis Stevenson hurled it across the box to Ryan Porteous. Ryotaro Meshino, the precocious Hearts talent, was patrolling just outside the home side's box. He ran after the opposition centre-back, then, when it was moved on to Jason Naismith, sprinted after the on loan full-back.
Within 18 seconds he had ventured from the left-hand side of the Hibs area to the left-hand side of his own team's box now in pursuit of Glenn Middleton.
The 21-year-old, who had arrived just last month from Manchester City via Gamba Osaka in his native Japan, had understood the magnitude of the Edinburgh derby. On social media ahead of the game he had predicted that Hearts would win and, with his side leading 2-1 having been a goal behind, he wanted to stand by his word.
It is easy to be overawed by such occasions. Players who have grown up watching these games, hearing the importance of the derby, seeing the intensity of the match, can become lost, even swallowed up by it all.
Individuals can give an indication of what kind of attitude or mentality they have when the game is hyped, the atmosphere charged. While some can be drowned, the big players ride the crest of the wave.
It wasn't all plain sailing for Meshino, there were some choppy moments. But he kept his head above water. He was pulled to the ground, on the end of some strong, but fair, tackles and bowled over when challenging for a header. Every time he got back to his feet and went about his business again.
That aggression and tenacity aspect of dealing with Scottish football, which was maybe queried by some following his arrival from the J1 League, was answered on Sunday. He sent a message: 'I can handle myself'.
That concern can be put to bed, and allow his inventive qualities to come to the fore.
His performance, while not man of the match worthy, was one which should excite Hearts fans. He sparkled throughout without lighting up the match.
Supporters and team-mates should become used to his demand. A pose he strikes again and again. Hands stretched downwards, directed towards his feet. Not so much a query or suggestion. A demand. 'I want the ball. Give me the ball'.
Time and again against Hibs he drifted into space between defence and midfield. Despite having played some of his career as a right-winger, he gravitates left into an imaginary box in front of and between the right centre-back and right-back.
There were one or two moments when he linked with Jake Mulraney, a quick one-two which opened up Hearts to attack. It is a combination which could prove so fruitful for Craig Levein. The Japanese attacker floating left, getting a pass from midfield, turning and feeding the ball through for the Irish winger to scamper on to.
Meshino is the one player in the Tynecastle squad capable of prising open defences with the type of through ball you imagine the great Italian No.10s playing.
He makes football look so easy, playing on the move, on the turn. His passing crisp and to feet. That was witnessed before he had even kicked a ball for the club. In the warm-up ahead of Hamilton Academical game he was passing the ball with Uche Ikpeazu and a member of the coaching staff. While he may have had to stretch his legs and chase a few passes, his were zipped in with pace and accuracy.
Every time he got possession under pressure on Sunday he would hold on to it. His team-mates will know they can give him the ball in tight areas. He has the skill, awareness and low centre of gravity to play his way out of these situations, creating space for colleagues.
After all it was him who got the ball rolling for the winner.
Nipping a loose ball off the toes of Josh Vela, he veered towards Stevie Mallan. The drop of the shoulder to ease away from his opponent was akin to an owner pretending to throw the toy for a dog with it haring away searching for nothing. He shifted a pass wide to Ikpeazu before having his run momentarily stopped by a desperate and retreating Mallan.
It is evident that he has it in him to be the difference maker for Hearts. Opening up the game, opening up defences. He can do so with a piece of skill, a forward pass, a slaloming run or a shot from outside the box. All were there to be seen at Easter Road.
The Tynecastle support have been starved of creativity. The fantasy player who can inject life into the most boring of games. The team became reliant on set piece goals, especially with Steven Naismith absent.
The experienced forward is set to miss the next few weeks but there is belief that Meshino can ease the blow and be celebrating with as much gusto as he was after the full-time whistle in Leith on Sunday.