Why fun times could be on the horizon for Hearts fans under Daniel Stendel

With the German kicking every ball at Tynecastle, it surely won't be long before his passion and ideas begin to show in the team's performances, writes Joel Sked

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 11:45 am
Daniel Stendel was a ball of energy, animatedly kicking every ball in Hearts' 2-0 defeat to Celtic
Daniel Stendel was a ball of energy, animatedly kicking every ball in Hearts' 2-0 defeat to Celtic

He never stopped. Exasperated turns to those behind him on the bench, frustrated hands clasped to his head. Arms waving encouragement like an excitable dad at his kid's sports day. Instructive shapes thrown to players as if raving away to techno music.

Daniel Stendel was fun to watch on the touchline against Celtic on Wednesday night. Full of energy, enthusiasm and intensity. The German heads and kicks every ball. No matter how he does at Tynecastle, one thing which won't be labelled at him is any passivity.

His demeanour and attitude in the dugout is exactly how he wants his team to play.

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In spells against the league leaders, the Hearts fans could see signs of encouragement, hints of inspiration.

Let's not get carried away too much - Neil Lennon's men deserved to win and the home side were still a team clearly lacking in confidence, stuck in the relegation mire.

The team doesn't yet look capable of being a potent force in the final third of the pitch - something Stendel alluded to in his post-match press conference.

That aside, there were big strides from the 1-0 defeat to St Johnstone in EH11 on Saturday. That was shown by the reaction of the crowd.

They listened to their new manager and got behind the team from the off. When Celtic went in front, they responded with roars of encouragement. Come the full-time whistle, they were clapped off the pitch.

It was disheartening to see so many empty spaces at Tynecastle for a fixture of such magnitude - under the lights, around the festive period. But it is completely understandable considering the low ebb everyone is at, the on-pitch fare, the disruption and confusion off the field and, of course, the ticket prices.

But even then, the home support showed they can still create quite the racket when they appreciate what they are seeing.

For 27 minutes they witnessed plenty of positives, as well as in other spells. Hearts pressed, chased, harried and hunted. The visitors' highly-rated centre-back Kristoffer Ajer had already been forced into conceding a corner when he simply knocked the ball out for a throw-in, knowing fine well that pressure was about to be put on him.

This pressure was led by Stendel; his arms rarely down by his side as he encouraged, barked and sometimes pleaded with his charges to get up the pitch and close down the opposition, to make it uncomfortable for Celtic.

The football itself was not very pretty, with players lacking a certain conviction in the final third. But playing forward and turning the opposition, getting up on second balls and competing was enough to get the fans on their side.

Commitment. It is a straightforward quality. One which should be easy, but is so often questioned.

Watching Stendel, it is hard to see that being a problem during his tenure. One of his charges, Michael Smith, spoke effusively about the new manager after the match and there is a feeling that when Hearts turn that corner, players return, others are traded in and out in January, it is going to be fun, a period which Hearts fans will enjoy.

It is not unusual for a foreign manager coming to Scotland to be scrutinised and treated with suspicion. Scottish football can be a very parochial business. Some may not think his English is as fluent as it should be and may not like the presence of Austrian Peter Haring on the bench to help with any translation issues but as a person, Stendel appears engaging, warm and humorous and his comfort will surely improve when he gets some of his own backroom staff behind him.

Despite two defeats without troubling the opposition goal, there are positives to take and an assertion from this writer that fun times could be around the corner.

Seeing the likes of Jamie Brandon, before he went off injured, his replacement at right-back Sean Clare, Loic Damour and others careering forward, rampaging into tackles and almost looking at Stendel to get clarification that they are indeed allowed to go forward, shackles off, should embolden fans. Especially ones who have had little to cheer or few positives to cling to of late.

Saturday's match at Hamilton is bordering very much on a must-win - it's certainly a must-not-lose - before the Edinburgh Derby.

It would be remiss to suggest one win would see Hearts motor up the table. The team still have a lot of work to do, but as well as getting crucial points it gives players a chance to show that they belong at Tynecastle for the Stendel era.

Fail to do so and they may regret missing out on the fun times which, if you squint your eyes and look at the right angle, could be just on the horizon.