Reaction from Tynecastle: Hearts deliver a winning display as startling as it was refreshing to see
Hard work under Austin MacPhee pays off
The dying moments of Hearts’ much-needed win over St Mirren encapsulated the entire performance from a maroon perspective. “Press! Press! Press!” bawled interim manager Austin MacPhee from the edge of the technical area. His team were 5-2 ahead and could have seen the game out in comfort, but he was urging players to continue the gameplan to the end.
Clearly, MacPhee likes having a go at opponents rather than trying to stifle a match. Supporters who attended Saturday’s must-win relegation affair at Tynecastle Park witnessed a Hearts team doing just that. A bold, energetic, aggressive performance was nicely refreshing after recent months.
No-one should get too excited, for Hearts remain ninth in the Ladbrokes Premiership with plenty ground to make up to achieve the stated aim of a European berth. Nonetheless, they did look a notably different proposition. Entering the game joint-bottom of the league with St Mirren brought huge pressure and they met the challenge head on.
They scored five goals in a league match for the first time since August 2016 and were altogether far more threatening. Defensive vulnerabilities were exposed in the first half as Jon Obika and Danny Mullen both found acres of space to equalise at 1-1 and 2-2. Sitting 3-2 ahead at the break, Hearts strode ahead thereafter.
MacPhee took the squad to Fife last week to train at Barnetts Park, home of St Andrews United, where they worked on an intensive 4-3-3 formation to harass the opposition. With Steven Naismith and Jamie Walker restored to the starting line-up, the attacking emphasis was clear. Both scored, as did Uche Ikpeazu, Oliver Bozanic and substitute Jake Mulraney on his return from injury.
Mulraney’s goal was the last and indeed the pick of the bunch as it nestled high in the top corner of Vaclav Hladky’s net. “I’m back a couple of weeks early,” said the Irishman after an ankle ligament damage. “I’m still in a bit of pain, to be honest, so I have to take some tablets beforehand. I think the ligaments are alright now, it’s just strengthening it and getting through the little bit of pain.”
His goal acted as a pain-killer all on its own. “Definitely. I’m just happy getting off the mark. I need to add a few more goals to my game and a few more assists. Me and Naisy were talking about assists and goals last week. He assisted me on Saturday but he had wanted me to assist him when we were talking.
“He is always talking on the pitch. He’s never quiet, always talking people through games, giving them information, egging them on and getting them up for it. That’s massive, especially for young boys and we have a lot of them in the team. He played at the very top so his standards are way up there and that’s what he wants from us. He wants things done right. That’s just him.”
Naismith’s influence was key in the centre-forward role. Seeing him flanked by striker Ikpeazu on the right wing and Aidy White on the left flank was rather surprising, but MacPhee’s tactics had the desired effect. Hearts simply had to win this match as they continue searching for a new manager. The temporary one feels they should still be targeting the Europa League qualifying rounds.
“The boys definitely agree with that,” said Mulraney. “We have got the quality to do it. It’s just doing it over and over again. Austin has done a lot with us and the boys enjoy working with him. He always has a tempo to training, he’s enthusiastic and he’s got a good footballing brain.”
Will he get the job, though? “The lads do really like working with him so I’m sure they would be happy if he got it,” opined Mulraney. “There was a little bit more structure. We knew what we had to do and we worked on it the whole week. We had loads of meetings on it and were really clear on what we had to do. . As opposed to doing it two or three days, we were doing it for seven days. Going away was good for us.
“I didn’t notice any negativity from the crowd at all. I think they saw we tried to work hard, we pressed and got in their [St Mirren’s] faces. I think that’s all they ask, really.”