Why Hearts fans are set to see the best of Andy Halliday as midfielder highlights 'biggest difference' from last season
Andy Halliday v Richard Tait.
It was the battle of the wing-backs at the SMiSA Stadium which turned into a captivating watch, especially during the first 45 minutes of Hearts’ 2-1 win over St Mirren.
Back and forth the pair went. Attack, defence, attack, defence. It was taxing work just watching them constantly go at each other, testing one another with runs and movements.
The wing-back role is a tiring one. It requires plenty of stamina, the capacity to sprint again and again. It is physically as well as mentally demanding.
It was a position Halliday was tasked with playing after Stephen Kingsley missed out for Hearts through illness. Tait, one of the fittest players in the league, is a formidable competitor.
“He’s an athletic boy so you know he is going to cause you problems trying to run in behind so it was up to myself to do the same to him and cause him issues the other way," Halliday told the Evening News.
“Physically wing-back is completely different. Physically it’s a lot more high intensity running than centre midfield. Centre midfield is different in terms of total distance covered.
"In possession, nine times out of ten you are the outlet out wide so you can see plenty of the ball. I need to be positive and find the front three because the front three are the ones who are going to win us games.
"We’ve also got a bit of flexibility and rotation to come in and play as well. I found myself in that position to score the first.”
Halliday was "in a little pocket” to net a lovely finish past Jak Alnwick after Liam Boyce found him with a cut back.
"I’ll praise him for cutting it back but I don’t think it was the best cut back in the world,” he laughed.
"There was a little bobble in it so I knew if I made the right contact into the far corner it had a chance.
"I’ve set myself quiet goals, I’m not going to tell you what they are, to try and add more numbers than I had last year. Three goals from midfield in my opinion is not enough for a team which is trying to win games of football. That’s two to start the season.”
Hearts are on a six game winning run this campaign, in three of those games Halliday has stood out. He produced a controlling performance against Cove Rangers, a combative one against Celtic and then, on Saturday, a clinical one against St Mirren.
“I had one, that’s probably the biggest difference,” he replied when asked if he did anything different in pre-season.
"I said it numerous times last season, I was never going to make any excuses but it ended up eight months then coming straight into Hearts and playing 120 minutes in a semi-final against Hibs two weeks later, I even look back at it now and I don’t even know how I done that.
"For myself having a full pre-season under my belt I certainly feel a lot fitter than I did last season. That will stand me in good stead for the season.”
Robbie Neilson is keen for his squad to be versatile, to be able to fill in different roles when and where required, especially with changes during the game. Halliday is someone who offers that flexibility.
“I used to think when I was a younger player, 20-21, that being versatile can hold you back when you are trying to break into a team because you are not really competing for one position,” he said.
"You are sort of competing for whatever player gets injured first or has a dip in form.
"As you get older you realise it can certainly be a benefit. I think the squad is quite light at the moment, the gaffer has publicly said that he’s trying to bring a couple more in.
"We’ve got a lot of young boys on the bench. It is unfair to expect too much from them too early and it only takes one injury or illness, in terms of Stephen Kingsely, for me to move position but doesn’t bother me at all as long as I’m doing a job for Hearts and winning games that’s all that matters.”
‘Hated playing without fans’
There may have only been just over a thousand in the ground on Saturday but the wing-back was the target of the home support, leading him to query what he had done to upset St Mirren fans.
Even still, he enjoyed it. Just as he did last week against Celtic.
The player has been a vocal advocate of the energy transference which comes from the stands.
"That’s probably been the biggest thing, pre-season aside,” Halliday said. “I think fans just give you an adrenaline. I’m a lot fitter than last year but I was knackered for the last 20 minutes against Celtic, there was no doubt about it, but when you have got 6,000 people willing you on from the stands it certainly give you that extra ten per cent of adrenaline, let alone fitness.
"I don’t think there’s been many as vocal as me in terms of players who have hated playing without fans. If it went into this year it would have been a long season for myself personally because I really didn’t enjoy it last year.
“I’ve always loved Tynecastle. I love the way it’s set up, I love how compact it is. I’ve been at the club maybe about 10 or 11 months and never played in front of more than 2,000 which was the Cove Rangers game, so the fact we had a capacity and 6,000 sounded like 30,000.
“It was absolutely rocking at the end. I think it was really important the boys celebrated with them after the game and we showed our appreciation because we’ve hated not having fans but they’ve hated not supporting a club.”