Stephen Kingsley reveals how Hearts are trying to emulate Scotland's Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson partnership

For Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson with Scotland, read Stephen Kingsley and Alex Cochrane at Hearts this season.

By Barry Anderson
Saturday, 7th August 2021, 6:00 am
Stephen Kingsley is performing a slightly different role for Hearts this season.
Stephen Kingsley is performing a slightly different role for Hearts this season.

The salaries are far lower, Tynecastle is a different venue to the Emirates Stadium and Anfield, but the footballing intentions and tactics are very similar. The three-man defensive system installed at Hearts mirrors that of the national team in many ways.

Tierney and Robertson’s interchanges down the left flank are a useful attacking feature of Steve Clarke’s side. June’s European Championship group games illustrated Tierney’s importance to the cause for his underlapping and overlapping of wing-back Robertson.

Hearts’ approach under Robbie Neilson this term is something of a parallel. With Kingsley at left centre-back and Cochrane, the Brighton loanee, outside him, an understanding is building between two left-footers comfortable both defending and attacking with the ball.

No-one at Riccarton would suggest that the Kingsley/Cochrane relationship is as well-oiled as the Tierney/Robertson one. It is still a work in progress and initial signs are encouraging.

“I have played centre-half before. Not regularly, but I have done it,” said Kingsley, who like Tierney learned his trade at left-back. “Left-back is my preferred position but coming into the left of the back three, it is a bit of both really. You try and read the game and you use your brain more than anything else, really.

“You need to try and get your positional sense right, but I have to defend first and foremost. If I can then join attacks and build from the back then that’s great. It’s a different challenge but it’s something the more I play it the more I will get used to it and hopefully I can get better and better.

“In the shape we are playing, you shouldn’t feel the need to stay back all the time. It’s the same with Scotland in that you see Kieran Tierney making runs forward and overlapping. It gives you the licence to do that knowing there are other defenders back there.

“It makes it difficult for the opposition in terms of who picks you up and you almost have an overload on that side. We have played the back three all pre-season and the tail end of last season so we all know our job and each other's job.

“We didn’t concede any goals in the last few games of last season and we carried that on this season. I was watching the games in the Euros, especially Scotland, you could see the back three has its benefits defensively and going forward.

“With Tierney and Robertson they looked so dangerous. It’s something we have worked on and it’s working quite well. Last Saturday [against Celtic] was difficult and we didn’t have much of the ball but hopefully the more we get into this shape we can dominate games.

“We defended for large spells on Saturday. It’s something we are comfortable with now but there are areas we can get better at and hopefully we can do that in the next few weeks.”

Saturday was one of those extraordinary occasions when everything fell into place. Hearts scored a last minute winner against Celtic to begin their cinch Premiership return with an inspired 2-1 victory. Now they travel to St Mirren today needing an encore.

“Everyone knows how great a start it was for us getting the win over Celtic but it means nothing if we don’t back it up,” insisted Kingsley. “You are always going to raise your game when you play the Old Firm but it’s about going to places like St Mirren and asserting yourself on that game.

“It’s about putting that effort, desire and hunger to get the result into this game. We have spoken about it the last few days. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we want to have the same performance we had and hopefully we can do that against St Mirren.

“The gaffer has been saying to us that there are areas we can do better in and how we can progress that into this game. It will be totally different to the Celtic match but we will be right up for it and ready to go.

“We go into this game on the back of a great result but if we don’t do the same again then it is going to be a real disappointment after such a great high.”

Success or failure in building momentum during the early weeks of a campaign can often determine how the season ahead will pan out. It is a fact imbedded in Hearts’ minds as they travel west along the M8 to Paisley.

The Edinburgh club intend to compete with a number of rivals to finish in the top six of the Premiership come next spring. Thereafter, if they can challenge for the top four, so much the better. Kingsley explained why their assignment is far from straightforward.

“It’s a strange league this year. The competition outside the Old Firm is so healthy,” he pointed out. “St Johnstone did so well last year, as did St Mirren and you have the likes of Aberdeen and Hibs.

“It’s going to be so interesting and there is going to be no games that you are going to go into thinking you are guaranteed to win. That’s not the case. We have to be on it every week but we have to try and push ourselves to be better every week.”

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