New Hearts manager Csaba Laszlo got his Tynecastle tenure off to an uninspiring start last night as his team drew 1-1 with Irish Premiership part-timers Glentoran in Belfast.
Playing for the Umbro Cup, Glentoran actually won the game on penalties after Saulius Mikoliunas had put Hearts in front, only for the visitors to be pegged back by the right foot of 19-year-old student Ryan Berry late in the game.
But Laszlo insists his own experience of pre-season matches has shown they mean little when a new campaign starts.
He said: “At my last club, we lost all our pre-season games and, when it came round to the league, we won our first six matches in a row. That doesn’t mean I go out not to win games – it just means not to take too much notice of pre-season games.
“It is about trying to get concentration levels and fitness levels higher, and working with different formations. I want the team to be able to play two or three different formations and it will take a little time for them to do that.”
Indeed, Laszlo put an early stamp on his new side by sending them out in a somewhat unusual formation. Playing with a 4-2-3-1, the Hungarian showed he at least is not afraid to try something a little different.
Ruben Palazuelos and Eggert Jonsson played in a holding role just in front of the back four with Mikoliunas, Michael Stewart and Andrew Driver ahead of them in the middle of the park. Gary Glen was given the task of finding a way past the home defence on his own.
The new Hearts manager, however, has called for leadership across the team.
Laszlo said: “I want the players to shout more. I have plenty of leaders and experienced players, but they need to talk more.”
Just five minutes into Laszlo’s reign, the visitors were in front when Mikoliunas turned and chipped into the top corner from 20 yards out, catching goalkeeper Elliott Morris off guard.
While Hearts were dominant, the Belfast side were a decent test and two minutes after his side went behind, Dean Fitzgerald struck the ball just wide.
Hearts were producing some neat football, sliding the ball around the impeccable surface and controlled most of the play. But Laszlo replaced Driver with Kestutis Ivaskevicius, such was the tenacity of some challenges.
Lee Wallace had Hearts’ first real opportunity after the break when he followed up a great run down the left flank with a powerful shot which flew wide.
Hearts were guilty of a lapse in concentration after the hour mark, though, when Jason Thomson tried to play the ball across the face of goal, only for David Scullion to steal in unchallenged 12 yards from goal. Thomson’s blushes were saved as goalkeeper Anthony Basso came to the rescue with a block.
But on 72 minutes the home side drew level when Berry’s long-range drive nestled in the corner of Basso’s goal, leaving the game to be decided on penalties, with Craig Sives missing Hearts’ final spot-kick.
Glentoran: Morris, Nixon, Ward, Johnny Taylor, Hill, Boyce, Fordyce, Fitzgerald, Neill, Hamilton, Halliday. Subs: James Taylor, Simpson, Scullion, Carson, Berry, McGovern, Bowers, McMenamin, Burrows, Ferguson.
Hearts: Banks, Thomson, Karipidis, Zaliukis, Wallace, Palazuelos, Jonsson, Mikoliunas, Stewart, Driver, Glenn. Subs: Ivaskevicius, Basso, Doherty, Kelly, Screpis, Elliot, Sives.