DARREN Murray leapt into Gary Locke’s arms on Tuesday night and then there was the fist-pumping and smiles. Two young coaches had delivered a win which had eluded Hearts since January.
The two have been in temporary charge of the side since John McGlynn’s departure, but the hours are ticking down until they are replaced by someone with frontline managerial experience of the Scottish Premier League, probably Peter Houston.
Locke has no issue with that, saying that is the nature of football. In just his second game at the helm, he halted the club’s run of five defeats but he relied on as much experience as he could muster, swapping the youngsters who have won plaudits – but few games of late – with his more battle-scarred players He is likely to do the same again this afternoon as they travel to Leith for the latest capital derby.
“I think it was the right time to take them out,” says Locke. “It was the same with myself when I played. Sandy [Clark, his manager as he broke into the first team at Hearts], put me in and, fortunately, I had a good run of games. I had about 30 games but then we actually played Hibs in a Scottish Cup game and he felt it was time to take me out of the team. I think it’s important that they all get a taste for it but it’s also important that we look after them, too. I just felt with the run we had been on, it was important we got more experience back in the team. We were lucky that paid off with a win on Tuesday night.”
The celebrations at the end were more than simple delight, though. “We were just so pleased and relieved to get a win and it was probably more relief than anything else. It was important that we stopped the rot because we are in a league position we feel we shouldn’t be in but, hopefully, that win can go a long way to lifting the confidence. There has been some doom and gloom about the place but now there are a lot of people coming in with smiles on their faces and that’s what we are looking to do.”
The kids who have been relegated to the bench and the stand are less excited but Locke says they have the right mentality to bounce back. “They were disappointed to be left out of the side the other night but that’s the way I want it. I would not want someone happy at being left out. These guys have showed they’re disappointed but they’ve reacted in the right way and they’re training really well.
“Their attitude is first class, they’re great lads. They’re not just great footballers, they’ve had a great grounding here and they’re fantastic young lads. All their heads are screwed on and that’s something that I think the academy has to take a lot of credit for. They apply themselves properly on and off the pitch.”
Reacting to setbacks positively is vital for career progression, insists Locke. “You come into the team and you get a taste for it, I’ve seen a lot of team-mates over the years. They come in and play ten, 11 games, think they’ve arrived and then the fade down the leagues.”
Locke was far from enamoured with Clark’s decision to leave him out of the derby match all those years ago but, looking back, he has no gripe.
“We won, Fozzy [Wayne Foster] scored so Sandy was right again. It was disappointing as a young kid to miss out on such a big game but everything Sandy did was for the betterment of his younger players and there was nobody better at that time.
“The older you get, you look back on these things and think Sandy was always spot on, especially with us young kids. He played the biggest part in what we all turned out to be in our careers, myself Paul Ritchie, Allan Johnston, Kevin Thomas, Allan McManus, even some of the younger players after that. We got a great grounding here and I think the young boys are getting the same with Darren. They’ve come into the team and done really well and the big test for them now is that other teams know their strengths and weaknesses, so it’s how they progress after that. They’re playing some fantastic stuff at times.”
With Darren Barr suspended today, it will free up a slot for one of the youngsters who performed so brilliantly the last time the side played at Easter Road, in the League Cup semi-final. Expected to be Locke and Murray’s last game in charge, they hope the return to that ground just one week before the cup final will be the kind of experience they can treasure.