IT was heartening to hear the views of John Sutton following another home disappointment for Hearts. The Englishman explained how the current squad is behind the club. He and several other players are considering buying some of the 16,325,000 ordinary shares being offered by the board to raise up to £1.79 million. His words were so encouraging because they came at the end of a week of dismay.
Supporters woke on Saturday to discover Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs are pursuing Hearts for £1.75m. Wages were paid late last Monday, a transfer embargo imposed on Wednesday and then the iconic Rudi Skacel joined Dundee United on Friday.
Sutton’s stoppage-time equaliser to rescue a point against an admittedly excellent Ross County team would hardly have inspired fans to start filling out applications to buy shares. Yet the striker put an excellent case forward and articulated his thoughts with passion and fervour. He outlined the strength of feeling within the Tynecastle dressing room for Hearts in a statement which would have pleased any supporter listening in. He acknowledged the problems facing the club but stressed that players will do everything in their power to help.
“We are very worried but I can’t say it’s anything new,” he said in reference to the tax case, which goes to court next month. “Since I’ve been here there have been a couple of issues on the financial side. The board have been very open with us and they’re open enough in the share brochure (issued to fans on Saturday) to say there are dangers ahead for the club. Also, they’re optimistic about the future.
“As players, we can do our bit if we can start winning games. We get great support anyway but hopefully that would sell a few more tickets and, if we can get to semi-finals and finals, that’s only going to help the club. The players realise as well that we are only a small part of Hearts. Everyone knows the club has been here since 1874. The players go to the World War I memorial every year. We realise how big the club is and how much it means to a lot of people. We’re just desperate to do our bit to help it survive and help it push on to even better things in the future.
“I’m going to look into buying shares. I think a lot of the players are. Everyone in the changing room cares about the club. There are things a lot of the players do, financially and giving their time up. We all want to help the club in any way we can. Footballers get portrayed as a bunch of mercenaries at times but we’ve all been talking between ourselves. There are times when we make a financial contribution and times when we’re more than happy to give our time up. That (buying shares) will certainly be something we consider.”
Sutton did his case for a starting place no harm with his cameo role against Ross County. The visitors, with some intelligent play on the break, had come from behind to lead 2-1 with only seconds of stoppage time remaining. Then the Englishman spun to hook Marius Zaliukas’ bouncing ball beyond the impressive Michael Fraser. The result was fair on the balance of play, however Hearts remain wasteful in front of goal as their lone striker policy failed again. It may be time to change approach and deploy Sutton alongside a partner.
“It’s difficult because the way we play is with one striker. It’s a bit like a goalkeeper, there’s only one position and a lot of competition for it. I feel my game has been decent. Everyone looks at stats on goals scored but there’s more to a striker’s game than that. I can bring other people into play and do a good job for the team. Ultimately it’s about how well the team does in the league and the cups. If I can score a few goals and play the majority of those games, I’ll be very happy.”
County were a credit to themselves, with Fraser producing instinctive blocks to repel shots from Andy Driver, Ryan McGowan, Ryan Stevenson and Callum Paterson. Arvydas Novikovas prodded Hearts’ opener from Zaliukas’ pass five minutes before the interval. Richard Brittain equalised from the penalty spot shortly after the restart, with Andy Webster adjudged to have pulled Iain Vigurs down. Then Vigurs teed up Stuart Kettlewell, who was granted far too much time and space to put County ahead from well outside Jamie MacDonald’s penalty area. Sutton’s late volley prevented defeat but again Hearts dropped points at home for the fourth time this season.
“It was a scrappy goal but we put pressure on them and at that stage it was good to get a point,” said Sutton. “We’re just disappointed not to get all three. I don’t think there were any glaring misses. You could argue their keeper had a fantastic game and when they got their chances they were very clinical. I don’t think we were playing badly. Sometimes you can miss-hit a ball, it gets deflected and rolls in over the line. We had plenty good strikes on goal and their keeper made a lot of good saves. In the end up we’ve got to work out a way that we’re going to start winning games and getting three points to take us up towards the top end of the table.”
Both managers felt their teams had dropped two points. “It was two dropped at the end because we were 2-1 up with the last kick of the ball,” said Derek Adams. “Hearts have a lot of experience so we’re happy to come away with a point, although disappointed not to get three having been in a winning position. It’s not easy at Tynecastle. We’re just coming up from the First Division and we’ve done exceptionally well so far. We’re on a different planet to Hearts and Hibs. We’re Ross County. We come from a wee village up in Dingwall. That’s where we are.”
John McGlynn again bemoaned his team’s inability to convert chances. Hearts had 18 attempts at goal compared with Ross County’s eight. “I thought we were totally dominant in the first half. We should have been more goals up given the amount of possession we had and the amount of balls we put into their box. It’s the same old story with the ratio of chances we’re getting. We’re not getting the goals, compared to our opponents’ ratio of chances to goals. Ross County must have had three or four chances. It doesn’t quite add up. We are not killing teams off.”