Craig Fowler reflects on a fairly comfortable win for Hearts, who appear to have broken out of their mini-slump.
There’s definitely a player in Abiola Dauda
Considering his record of three goals in six games, it may be surprising to learn for any non-Hearts fans reading this, but the Tynecastle faithful are not entirely satisfied with their new on loan striker. It’s perhaps because he played 90 minutes without doing much of note in both Edinburgh derbies. Regardless, when a couple of first half moves broke down around him, there were more than a few audible moans and groans.
The striker definitely has talent. While his chance against ICT could barely have been missed, he rounded the goalkeeper with impressive confidence and ease, having done something similar to Danny Devine to fashion a chance for himself a short time earlier.
Sometimes he contributes well to attacks, dropping deep to show a soft touch and good awareness to keep a move flowing, while at other points he struggles with the pace or physicality. He’ll continue to get better the more he’s able to adapt to the Scottish game. Something he’s clearly finding issues with a little at the moment.
As long as Hearts are in the hunt for second place - with Jonny Hayes and Adam Rooney out injured for Aberdeen they really should consider themselves to be - then the Dauda experiment is worth persevering with.
Gavin Reilly makes Hearts a better team
Reilly’s performances since pushing himself into the starting XI at the tail-end of last year collectively make a perfect example of how great forward play needn’t necessarily be about scoring goals. The former Queen of the South striker has only netted four times this season, that’s one short of his strike-partner who just arrived from the Netherlands little over a month ago. Yet he’s managed to win over the same group of supporters who were more than a little unsure of him after his summer move from Queen of the South,
It’s undeniable that Hearts perform better with Reilly in the side. His pace stretches opposing teams while his willingness to chase and harry defenders helps the attack to press from the front. His dynamism also opens up space for Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson, two players who like to drift inside from the wings and attack the penalty box.
Liam Smith is an effective deputy
The 19-year-old came in for his first league start for the Jambos and filled in admirably for Paterson at right back. Despite going against Danny Williams, a dynamic wide player with a lot of pace, he was caused no problems defensively, and got forward well to support his team-mates in the first half. He also went close with a long range effort after executing a good one-two and cutting inside on to his left foot.
Inverness had better raise their game on Sunday
This is obviously true of their opponents, also. Hibs’ three-game losing streak is startling, especially when you compare it with some of the victories they’ve had this season and the strength of their last three opponents - Morton, Dumbarton and Queen of the South. However, Inverness can’t feel too confident going into the cup quarter-final either having looked completely toothless against Hearts. This disappointing performance came just a few days after they performed very well against Dundee, where they were unlucky not to take all three points after losing a late goal. A week prior they gave Celtic a real scare at Parkhead, and recently defeated Aberdeen, so it wasn’t like they were in terrible form.
Despite Hearts starting with a teenager at right back, pairing together two centre backs who’d only played together once, and starting in a 4-4-2 formation with two wingers, Inverness couldn’t break through the home defence. Miles Storey brought out a good second half save from Neil Alexander having shot from the edge of the area, while Devine had a first half header not long after Hearts scored, but that was it. Even though Hibs are hurting, it’ll take much more from Caley Thistle on Sunday if they’re going to take advantage and remain in the draw for the semi-finals.
John Hughes is working with a paper thin squad
Ross Draper was a big loss for the visitors last night as Iain Vigurs came into the centre of midfield instead and spent the entire game doing very little of note other than fouling. To be fair, Inverness will perhaps count themselves lucky they had anyone to fill the void at all. The away side named only five players on the bench, two of which were young players, one of which John Hughes couldn’t remember the name of when he spoke to the BBC before the game.
Caley Thistle may miss out on a place in the top six, which will be quite a comedown after the highs of winning the Scottish Cup and finishing third last season, but given some of their injury problems and the players they’ve lost - Ryan Christie, Graeme Shinnie, Marley Watkins and Edward Ofere are all cup final heroes who’ve departed - just staying well clear of the relegation battle is a terrific accomplishment for this side.
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