Gary Mackay: Hearts board backed the signings - now we need a backlash at Kilmarnock

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Qualifying for Europe is the be-all-and-end-all for Hearts this season. The club and supporters tasted it last year and the squad was improved with this in mind.

I know there have been injuries but everybody gets injuries during a football season. The board have matched what sporting director Joe Savage and manager Robbie Neilson were looking for. Ultimately, if you match that with financial support and backing, then there will be an expectation from supporters.

I hear some people on the outside saying: ‘It’s so difficult in the league, we need Celtic and Rangers to go down to England.’ Well, Celtic and Rangers simply aren’t going anywhere any time soon. During my career, it wasn’t only Celtic and Rangers you had to contend with because Aberdeen and Dundee United were winning league titles at that time. You had to fight against them for success because of the clubs they had built.

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If you look at Hearts’ history, it’s clear that what was achieved one year with European football wasn’t always achieved the following year. There has been inconsistency all through many different eras. However, I’m not sure the club has had the backing in terms of squad numbers that we have at this time. Even without people like Craig Gordon, Beni Baningime, Craig Halkett and Liam Boyce, we still have a very strong group of players at Tynecastle. You only need look at the bench full of experience.

It continues to be my bugbear that we are still not seeing any real impact from anybody in the youth academy. That’s maybe a historical thing because the youth system was mismanaged for many years before the current staff came in. Younger players should be able to learn from all the good professionals as well as someone like Steven Naismith, the B team coach.

Some younger players have joined the first-team squad for training recently and hopefully we see them breaking through. For me, Heart of Midlothian are missing out not having young players coming to the fore as quickly as we would like.

The run-in to the end of the season means we are looking at games Saturday to Saturday, so it’s a case of putting out your strongest team and going for it. There is no need to pick and choose who plays or keep people for the next game. It’s about the strongest XI and starting the game on the front foot.

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There are wee things you can look at. Does the warm-up need to be changed because we often aren’t starting games well away from home? The small details can make a difference so it’s worth looking at what needs to be changed to give us a stronger command of third place.

The Hearts board in the directors' box at Tynecastle Park.The Hearts board in the directors' box at Tynecastle Park.
The Hearts board in the directors' box at Tynecastle Park.

We definitely need to pick up results on the road. One place where we have done fairly well in recent seasons is Easter Road and we go there again next month. First it’s Kilmarnock a week on Saturday, which becomes a massive game. People might stew on the sore defeat at Aberdeen but there needs to be a backlash from the Hearts team on the pitch at Rugby Park. I think that will be vital for us to get something out of the match.