Hearts players pledge to meet fans’ expectations in league opener against Aberdeen
Converting chances is an issue which may take Hearts time to remedy. Steven Naismith’s imminent arrival will undoubtedly help. Some fans aren’t prepared to show more patience and voiced their dismay after Saturday’s Betfred Cup tie at East Fife. Drawing 1-1 with part-time third division opponents was unpalatable, likewise the subsequent 7-6 penalty shootout loss.
Their club progressed to the tournament’s knockout phase as Group A winners with nine points. That was insufficient for a seeding berth, hence they will play Motherwell at Fir Park. Hearts bombarded East Fife at times during the 90 minutes, but finishing remains a challenge this early in the season without Naismith and injured new signing Conor Washington.
It has been the theme of their Betfred campaign thus far against Dundee United, Cowdenbeath and Stenhousemuir. Supporters were upset at the end at Methil and vented their feelings at players and management, prompting striker Uche Ikpeazu to appeal for calm in the stands as he left the pitch. Those at Tynecastle Park know the standards expected.
“It’s a big club. All the players know it’s a big club and I think the gaffer knows it’s a big club,” said Jamie Walker, who did score to put Hearts ahead before Chris Duggan’s second-half equaliser. Manager Craig Levein was unhappy with the outcome and acknowledged his team had been “poor” at times.
“They have big expectations and if we aren’t reaching them then the fans are entitled to voice their opinion,” added Walker. “Hopefully we can get a good start to the league season and take it from there. We are a big club and we shouldn’t be going to East Fife and drawing matches. We need to be more clinical and hopefully, when the league starts, we can do that. If we aren’t clinical against Aberdeen, we will lose.”
Walker’s chance was straightforward in stroking Craig Halkett’s cross past the East Fife goalkeeper Brett Long on 15 minutes. “I made it clear when I came back that I was on 40 goals for Hearts and I want to get to 50 this season. That’s another one to add to that tally,” he said.
Duggan prodded Ryan Wallace’s delivery past Zdenek Zlamal early in the second half before the game went to penalties. Michael Smith, Steven MacLean, Aidan Keena, Walker and Jake Mulraney all scored for Hearts but Sean Clare and Bozanic failed to convert.
Scott Agnew, Wallace, Anton Dowds, Stewart Murdoch, Ross Davidson, and Chris Higgins converted for East Fife. Duggan and Pat Slattery missed to leave the shootout poised at 6-6.
The teenager Hickey was desperately disappointed as Long saved his kick. That allowed Aaron Dunsmore to win the shootout 7-6.
If Hearts are slightly misfiring in attack, there is no such problem in defence. Halkett is already excelling after two goals against Stenhousemuir and a tenacious part in creating Walker’s goal on Saturday. He waded through a 50/50 challenge and sprinted to keep the ball in play on the right touchline. The centre-back quickly crossed for his No.10 to score.
“Best signing we’ve made in years – number 26,” raved one Hearts fan in the Bayview main stand about Halkett. But with Peter Haring injured and others still to reach peak form, it is difficult to predict how Levein’s side will fare when the Premiership starts this weekend.
“I think we are good,” said Walker. “Peter is missing, he is a big player for us. When Naismith comes in, he will be another big player. We have another couple of key players to come back. Finishing sixth isn’t good enough for this club so we want to be up and around the European places.
“Last year in the Betfred they didn’t do so great but they started the season on fire. That’s something we will look at and try to do. We have a tough start but these are the games you want to play in.”