The specific substitution ploy Hearts will use for extra attacking edge this season
A regular feature of Hearts’ matches this season will be the introduction of fresh-legged wingers around the hour mark.
Whether to inject blistering pace, greater creativity, or increase the team’s goalscoring threat, fans can expect the tactic to recur throughout the campaign. The plan is to overwhelm opponents at a point in the game when they may be starting to tire.
The Riccarton first-team squad is armed with a plethora of options to help execute this. Gary Mackay-Steven arrived in January, Josh Ginnelly signed a permanent contract in June after spending last season on loan, Ben Woodburn joined on loan from Liverpool last month, followed by Barrie McKay on a two-year deal last week.
Two wide players flanking a striker in a 3-4-3 formation allows plenty attacking intent, with another two in reserve primed to impact the last third of the match. Hearts are back in the Premiership and determined not to allow the other 11 teams a minute’s peace.
Hibs witnessed the first enactment of the ploy on Sunday when Ginnelly and McKay replaced Mackay-Steven and Woodburn respectively. A winning goal eluded the hosts, largely thanks to Matt Macey in the visitors' goal, but swapping wide men is to remain a frequent theme.
“I think everybody who actually watches football would agree that our team is very strong now,” said Ginnelly, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “Look at our bench, we have some great players. We’ve never had the mindset of: ‘Let’s just see where we go.’ We have ambition and the mentality of the team is very strong.
“Ben Woodburn is an English Premier League player, Baz has just signed, Beni [Baningime] has come up from Everton. All the signings bring something to the table. They haven’t come in to just be a part of it. They want to affect the game.
Make a difference
“Me and the gaffer spoke about it early on Sunday morning before the derby. He wanted me to come on and make a difference but it’s quite tough in those games. You’re coming on and it’s 200 miles an hour. You need to stay switched on.
“We wanted to win for the fans but I think, if you said at the start of the season that we’d be second in the table and a point behind Rangers, we’d have taken it. There are plenty positives.
“I love playing here. It’s a good environment. There are no egos in the changing room, we are back in the Premiership and the fans are back in. Everything is good and everybody at Hearts wants to keep this unbeaten run going.”
Ten league games without defeat – split evenly between the end of last season and the start of this – encourages thoughts that Hearts could challenge for a top-four finish. Competition for places is stronger than it has been for many years at Tynecastle Park, allowing for the aforementioned winger sub idea.
“I like it. When you look at the team now, we have two players in every position and every single person can offer something,” added Ginnelly. “It’s good to have competition but there aren’t any bad relationships, it’s not a bad thing to have.
“You are going to train better, work harder, improve yourself, and that improves the team. The standard of training has obviously gone up. As I said, nobody here is an individual. We all know what we want to achieve and we are all pulling in that direction.
“We’ve made some really good signings so nobody is going to play every single game. We aren’t bothered because we want to achieve something as a team rather than individually.”
A muscle injury restricted Ginnelly’s involvement in the derby and he will be managed carefully this week in the build-up to Saturday’s match at Ross County. The Englishman’s bursts of pace still kept the Hibs left-back Josh Doig fully occupied late in the game.
For the player nicknamed “Gino”, sleep and rest are key aspects of pre-match preparation. Others are more wound up. “Everyone was right at it in training all week because we all knew what was riding on this derby. Some boys were up at six o’clock getting a feel for the game. I try to be like that but I love my sleep,” he smiled.
“I knew from last season what it means to beat Hibs. I was struggling with my own injury although it wasn’t too bad. We’ve been working on it all week so I could give us something. I had a chance myself, I should probably have headed it across to Boycie.”
Like most wingers, Ginnelly thrives on confidence. Self-belief is seldom a problem but knowing he popular player with many Hearts supporters is exactly the kind of boost he needs as he tries to reclaim a starting place in the side.
“When I’ve been outside I’ve seen some fans and some of them have made positive comments,” he explained. “It’s good to just have them back in the ground. Even the away fans, it’s great for banter and it shows football is back.
“I’d agree that wingers need confidence. As an attacking player, you need to have a strong mentality. Everybody expects you to take the ball past your man every time and that isn’t going to happen. It’s great having the fans cheering you on, like they did on Sunday and like the did at Dundee United. It does give you that boost.”