EIGHT Championship teams have tried to storm Fortress Tynecastle this season and all have been seen off the premises with relatively little fuss.
Alloa Athletic will this weekend attempt to do something no side has managed this season – leave Gorgie with a point.
Table-topping Hearts boast the only flawless home record in Scottish football and, with 28 goals to their name – an average of 3.5 per game – they are, by some distance, the most prolific home team in Britain.
To put their scintillating form into context, Hearts, albeit operating in Scotland’s second tier, have already plundered more home goals in just eight games this season than they managed in the entirety of each of their previous two campaigns.
In the famous 2005/06 season, the last time Hearts won their first eight home games, they had scored 17 by this point before eventually suffering their first Tynecastle setback – a 0-0 draw with Inverness in December. If Robbie Neilson’s side avoid a similar slip-up against Alloa tomorrow, it will mean they have completed the first half of their home campaign without a blemish.
“The key to any successful season is to get your home form right and make your ground somewhere other teams are fearful to come. Hearts have definitely done that,” said former Jambos winger John Colquhoun, who regularly attends Tynecastle. “Teams are now coming to Tynecastle fearful of the way that Hearts play and the run of form they’re on.”
After some turbulent times and occasional rancour from the stands during the controversial reign of previous owner Vladimir Romanov, Colquhoun believes the positive atmosphere that has been harnessed in Gorgie since the club emerged from administration has been key to Hearts once again thriving on their own patch. “I think a factor in the positive atmosphere about the place is that the fans are really happy to have kept the club alive and got it into safe hands. There’s a fresh energy about the club because of the new start and the takeover,” he said. “There’s a general good feeling and momentum around the club and one is feeding off the other. They’re looking to play a way that excites the fans and they are responding.
“The supporters are enjoying being part of the ‘new Hearts’, if you like. The mood about the place is great. It’s a great place for the supporters to go and watch their team and it’s also a brilliant environment for the players to play in.
“Supporters will always give young players more of a chance than they will seasoned veterans. Hearts have got the right mix this year and there’s a real joie de vivre about the way they play. Robbie’s got them playing some lovely stuff. Even when they look as though they’re under a wee bit of pressure, for example in the last home game against Queen of the South, they continue to stick to the philosophy and pattern of play that they work so hard on in training. That seems to be appreciated in the stands. It’s a great time to be a Hearts supporter and a Hearts player.”
Hearts, nine points clear at the top of the league, have scored five goals in three of their eight home matches and Colquhoun believes teams are now arriving at Tynecastle wary of receiving a hammering. “Teams come knowing that if they lose the first goal, they’re going to lose,” he said. “They invariably sit in and try not to concede. It will become more difficult for Hearts because teams will come and sit in more and more as the season goes on. The problem these teams have, though, is that Hearts’ threat comes from so many different areas that it’s hard for them to pinpoint a way of stopping them. It’s not always just a case of Hearts blowing teams away from start to finish – they’re a very resilient team. The Queen of the South game could definitely have gone against them but they have so much belief about them that, when they eventually got their noses in front the second time, they went in for the kill.
“It was similar against Rangers when they were under a bit of pressure in the first 20 minutes but eventually they kept believing that their philosophy and style of play would take them to victory. By the same token, the teams that come to Tynecastle know they are going to get a really tough time and are either going to have to be very fortunate or play at the top of their game to leave with anything.”
Colquhoun believes Hearts’ ruthless home form shouldn’t be devalued because it has come in a lower league than they have previously been accustomed. He believes they deserve kudos for finding a way to master stuffy opponents who have caused problems for fellow Championship big guns Rangers and Hibs.
“I don’t care what anybody says about what league it is, you can only beat what’s put in front of you,” he continued. “You look at football at all levels all over the world, if you’ve got a team with fitness and organisation, it’s very difficult to break them down even if you are the bigger club with the better players. Lots of good teams prefer to play on the break because it’s very hard to make all of the running all of the time. Hearts are managing it superbly, though.There’s no doubt that they will eventually come up against a team that they just can’t break down either through bad luck or simply having an off-day. But when that happens, I’ve got no doubt they’ll respond well to it. There’s a real belief about the players and the management team as well as a momentum right through the club that will be difficult for teams to stop.”
Alloa have previously taken points off both Hibs and Rangers this season and they came within a couple of minutes of doing so against Hearts at Recreation Park before Adam Eckersley’s late winner in October. A defensive approach away to Hibs last weekend, however, yielded only a 2-0 defeat.
“Alloa sat in at Easter Road and tried to keep everything tight and they’ll do the same at Tynecastle,” said Colquhoun. “Barry Smith’s got them well organised and they’re definitely fit so it will be difficult for Hearts. They’ll not be the first team to come to Tynecastle and sit in, though, so Robbie will have his ideas about how to break them down. All it will take is one mistake from Alloa or one moment of magic from Hearts and Alloa will be chasing the game.
“When your philosophy is to sit in, it’s really difficult to change things when you lose a goal. The longer the game goes at 0-0, it obviously suits Alloa, but, if I was Robbie or a Hearts player, I’d be pretty confident that Hearts will get their fair share of chances.”