Hearts showed two things on Friday night: the players remain fully behind manager Craig Levein despite a sluggish start to the 2019/20 season, and this squad is very much capable of putting in a strong and confident performance against a tough opponent.
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Barring the usual 'glass-half-full' types who go into every match with a sense of optimism, there were few fans who thought Hearts would advance beyond the Fir Park outfit into the next round of the Betfred Cup, especially after the performance against Ross County last weekend. Throughout the dismal 0-0, a result which Hearts were fortunate to get due to County's errant finishing, supporters booed the home players. Having suffered through similar showings on a repeated basis since the wheels came off the terrific start to last season, the fans were at the end of their tether with the team and management took the brunt of that criticism.
Levein himself admitted it was far from good enough and, rather worryingly considering it's still August, said his players were suffering from a lack of confidence.
Whatever was said or done in the six days between matches it certainly worked. Hearts were comfortable in possession for the first hour and held a deserved lead. The last 30 minutes could've been better, but after giving away a goal out of nowhere to bring Motherwell back into the match at 2-1, they still didn't look in too much danger of conceding a second.
The gameplan worked very well. With two sitting midfielders in the side the back-line were given greater protection, though it did help that every single member of the defensive four played out of their skins on the night. Further forward, Sean Clare, Jake Mulraney and Jamie Walker enabled Hearts to play dangerously on the counter attack. The key, though, was Conor Washington. Preferred to Uche Ikpeazu, the summer signing was able to hold up play in a manner that was superior to what his team-mate can offer, while also showing himself to be a viable threat running with the ball himself. He won the penalty which Clare missed, found Michael Smith with a pass which led to the opener and then tucked away a spot-kick himself for what would prove to be the winning goal.
Levein has been steadfast in his belief that everything will be right once Hearts have turned a corner. Was that bend negotiated on Friday night? Fans remain skeptical. Fickle though supporters may be, the majority will need more than 90 minutes to convince them that this team and management are capable of taking advantage of seemingly weakened Hibs, Kilmarnock and Aberdeen squads to finish third behind the Old Firm.
So what now? Unfortunately for the men in maroon, it will be rather difficult to build on Friday's momentum in their next game, an away trip to Celtic. However, if they can at least put in a decent performance during that free hit then there are two winnable league fixtures at Tynecastle against Hamilton and Motherwell in which to get the season truly up and running.
These contests will be key for the manager. He's shown in two league matches that Hearts are a threat away from home. This is no mean feat. The Gorgie Road side have been notoriously poor outside of EH11 for years. However, they've always been looked upon as a formidable foe at Tynecastle. That air of intimidation dissipated a little last season as the likes of St Mirren, Dundee and Livingston all managed to avoid defeat in Edinburgh, while this campaign hasn't shown much promise in that regard so far with draws against Dundee United and County sandwiching a narrow victory over Stenhousemuir.
It remains to be seen whether Friday's line-up can break down stuffy opponents at home. There's certainly enough talent in the team to do so, even without Walker who is expected to miss several months, but we would've said the same before the United and County contests. Regardless, the home crowd will be expecting six points and to defeat at least one of the two Lanarkshire sides by a comfortable margin. If that happens we may see the Tynecastle faithful getting fully on side once again.