Michael Smith: 'Hearts were poor against Rangers and lacked bravery - people need to grow a set'
Defender criticises Tynecastle team-mates after Betfred Cup semi-final loss
Michael Smith delivered a scathing assessment of Hearts’ Betfred Cup semi-final display as he accused team-mates of lacking bravery. The defender was seething after the 3-0 loss to Rangers and admitted whoever becomes the new manager at Tynecastle Park must change certain players’ mentality.
A goal from Filip Helander and two by Alfredo Morelos earned Rangers comfortable passage into the season’s first cup final against a tame Hearts team which barely threatened. That has been the story of the season in Gorgie and led to manager Craig Levein’s sacking on Thursday with the club joint-bottom of the Premiership.
Assistant coach Austin MacPhee was in interim charge yesterday but Smith implored colleagues to start taking more responsibility. He labelled their performance at Hampden Park yesterday “poor” and explained why the club’s current predicament hurts him.
“Without swearing, people need to be brave,” said the 30-year-old. “They need to want the ball and at the minute I’m not seeing that from a lot of my team-mates. For me, it’s a real problem at the minute. People need to stand up and be counted – and grow a set.
“I still believe we are a good set of players but when confidence is low you need people to step up and be brave but there’s not enough people doing that.
“Flying into tackles and 50/50 challenges should be a given. For me, that’s not bravery. Bravery is wanting to get on the ball and pass the ball. Showing and moving for the ball is real bravery. That’s what gets you somewhere in football. Just look at Rangers – every single player of theirs wanted the ball and look what happened.”
Asked if the new Hearts manager will have to change some players’ mindsets, Smith replied: “Yes, definitely. We have players who can do it on the training pitch. I see players wanting the ball but when it comes to a Saturday it’s a different story. I’m not saying we can’t do it, but we need a change of mentality and to be a bit braver.
“We talk about it ourselves and we drive each other. We’ve got good experienced players like [Steven] Naismith and [Glenn] Whelan who dig people out. That’s exactly what we need at the minute. That’s how you get the most out of people.”
Smith was unimpressed with how Hearts went about their business at Hampden. “It was poor, very poor,” said the Northern Irishman. “We had a good gameplan but we did not do it well enough. We never laid a glove on Rangers. We didn’t show up and it was really poor, really disappointing. It’s hurting me.
“Austin said the same – we were poor. But we have a massive game coming up next week and that will be our focus. The quicker we get this out of our heads the better then we can start to prepare for the next game.”
Hearts host St Mirren in the league on Saturday with both clubs joint-bottom. “At the minute we are in a relegation battle, 100 per cent. There’s no ifs or buts about it. If you look at our performances they have been very poor. The only way to get out of it is to work hard on the training pitch.”
Smith is hoping to be fit after being substituted in the second half against Rangers with a quad muscle injury. “It’s my left quad but I don’t think it’s too bad. I just tweaked it,” he explained.
Midfielder Oliver Bozanic urged Hearts players to unite and fight their way out of the current turmoil. “There is going to be disappointment in the changing room. This hasn’t been a good run, we’ve lost the manager and it’s been difficult,” he said.
“It’s important we keep a very close changing room. It’s the only way we can move forward. If everyone goes their separate ways, it can go downhill. I believe we do have the right players in the team to build and go upwards.
“I hope we’re on the way up. If we are plateauing, I hope we are on the way up. That’s the way I have to look at it. I have to see that it is around the corner and I’ll be doing everything possible to ensure we have a good performance and try to win this week.
“Everything goes out of the window. It’s about having a really positive week. Obviously it’s disappointing. Players’ heads will be down. In these situations you need to remain calm, be really positive and try to win the next game.”