Lawrence Shankland sends huge warning to Hearts players after loss vs Motherwell
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Hearts’ captain Lawrence Shankland says that ‘talk is cheap’ following Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Motherwell and that the players must use the international break to get their heads together.
The Jambos’ were deservedly beaten by a resilient visiting side, who have gone joint top of the league alongside defending champions Celtic, and have won just one of their opening four Scottish Premiership matches. They now go into the international break on a four game losing run across all competitions.
The problems from the match were as obvious to the players as they were to the supporters in the stand, Hearts simply did not test Well’ stopper Liam Kelly enough. They struggled with the visitors’ physicality in the first half but dominated possession in the second, particularly with a man advantage, but still couldn’t find a way to goal.
Speaking exclusively to the Edinburgh Evening News after the match, Shankland said: “It’s obviously hard to put our finger on exactly what went wrong. It felt like we had the opportunity to play passes that we just weren’t brave enough to play at times, if we just committed to it a bit more and been a bit less safe we might have created better opportunities. The pressure obviously gets to us a bit when we find ourselves behind and then for one reason or another we don’t seem to do it.”
Kelly, who will join Shankland and Zander Clark in the Scotland camp this week, had little to do all afternoon but that was down to the defenders in front of him who shut down the hosts before they could get at the stopper. In particular, centre back Bevin Mugabi made some fine challenges including to block a Shankland shot that looked set to burst the net.
“It was a decent move to be fair,” the striker commented. “We had a couple like that but Motherwell did well to get bodies in front of it, their keeper didn’t have to work too hard and coming to Tynecastle we know that’s unacceptable. It’s a wee chance now to get a break and we can analyse what we feel has gone wrong in the last couple of games and we can look at that and see what we need to do to improve.”
Between league and European fixtures and now the rigours of international football, Shankland isn’t getting much time to rest. However, the 28-year old reassured supporters that he was feeling in good condition even if he and his club teammates were deflated after Sunday’s result. The focus will now be fully on Cyprus, where Scotland will have a chance to secure qualification for next year’s European Championship finals if results elsewhere also go their way, and then the Auld Enemy clash with England which will of course be a ‘friendly’ in name only.
He said: “I’m fine, obviously it’s where you want to be (with Scotland). I’d prefer to go to it on the back of a win but it wasn’t to be and we weren’t good enough. I don’t want to say too much because talk is cheap and we just need to put it right in a couple of weeks when we come back.”
The Hearts’ skipper will have his mind firmly on those two bumper contests, as he looks to play his part in the double header, but he knows there are issues that need sorting back in Edinburgh before Aberdeen make the trip to Gorgie on September 16. The atmosphere in the Scotland camp is at its highest in years but Shankland knows that a winning team breeds that positivity and picking up victories will be the only way to get that feel good factor amongst the players and supporters at Hearts.
“The Cyprus game is most important, it’s a qualifier and if we can win that puts us in a good position so hopefully that’s what we can go and do and then it sets us up nicely for the England game coming back home. It’s going well, being successful and getting results and playing well makes everybody feel good but when you’re not doing that it’s not easy to get that feeling about the place. The break is maybe coming at a good time for boys who can get away, get their heads together and when they come back we know we need to do better.”
Scotland currently sit top of UEFA Euro qualifying section Group A after a perfect start which has seen them win all four of their matches including memorable victories at home to Spain and away to Norway. A win over Cyprus could secure qualification but, even if they do not get the results elsewhere that they need, it will still be another huge step towards Germany for Steve Clarke and his players.
Their remaining fixtures in the group see them face their toughest match with a trip to Spain on October 12 before wrapping things up with a double header away to Georgia and then at home to Norway on November 16 and 19 respectively. Meanwhile, the match with England this month is being played to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the oldest rivalry in world football.
The last time England visited Hampden will have been one of the most memorable experiences in the recent memories of most Scotland supporters as Leigh Griffiths netted a brace of free kicks to put Scotland 2-1 up in a 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier. Alas, the English equalised at the death but those are distant memories now and the Tartan Army will be confident of a famous win over their arch rivals if Steve Clarke can continue to work his magic.