HENRY Smith fears Hearts could be let down by their more experienced players in Sunday’s League Cup final, rather than the clutch of youngsters who have made their first-team breakthrough for the Tynecastle club this season.
Former Hearts goalkeeper Smith remains a keen observer of the current side and is full of admiration for the emerging talent who have become regulars over the past few months.
But the 57-year-old believes there is a lack of authority and communication from the senior professionals which could undermine Hearts’ prospects of beating St Mirren at Hampden.
Smith insists current Hearts goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald, stand-in captain Andy Webster, his fellow Scotland international central defender Danny Wilson and midfielder Ryan Stevenson have a collective responsibility to lead by example.
“The back four has got international players in it and you need someone to be the boss,” said Smith. “Jamie might do it, Webby might do it, but it seems to me that this is a problem for Hearts which could cause them more problems on Sunday.
“Webby should have a voice, so should the boy Wilson from his time at Liverpool and Rangers. Stevenson seems to have a voice and I heard a few stories that he likes to rattle off with his mouth.
“Jamie has a coach who should be telling him these things. Is he shouting good things to Webby and Wilson? If they are not the right things, then they will be wondering what the hell is going on.
“These are the things Jamie has to be conscious of, because he has been at Hearts a long time now and I think he could improve on that. It is one weakness he maybe should work on to progress his career as he is not a bad goalkeeper.”
Smith, who will be at Hampden on Sunday to don the gloves again at the age of 57 for a half-time penalty shoot-out competition, hopes to see an aggressive approach from Hearts even before the final kicks off.
“When I played, you were in the tunnel before the game and someone would say ‘Let’s get right into these b******s, they’re scared’. It’s just like sledging in cricket. We’d have some games won in the tunnel.
“It can put you ahead before you get on the park, the opposition might be a wee bit hesitant in the first tackle or in front of goal and it can make a difference.
“I remember John Roberston told big Mick McCarthy in the tunnel before a game against Celtic one day that he was going to kick him the first chance he got. McCarthy reacted by getting wee Robbo first and was sent off, so it worked in our favour.
“It’s all just mind games, but it comes from experience. You can’t expect the young kids to do it. Get the senior players to do it and then St Mirren will know that Hearts are really up for it.
“Gary Locke will know all about it. He has Hearts running through his blood. He used to do it himself as a player and now he is in charge of the team, he needs to tell the senior players to do it on Sunday.”
Smith believes a change in approach from Locke following the dismissal of John McGlynn as manager has already made a notable difference to Hearts on the pitch. “The performances don’t lie,” added Smith. “Speaking to a few of the players, and it’s nothing against John who is a decent coach, there were a few murmurs that he was too friendly at times.
“There has to be a dividing line between managers and players. Gary Locke is a hard case, he’s been there and done it and he knows how to get the best out of the players. They seem to be doing okay under him.
“The young kids have performed really well for Hearts this year and it’s a pity they couldn’t have been rested more.
“I hope Gary picks Jamie Walker, because I’ve been impressed by him. He has a bit of something about him and can put in a telling ball or open up a defence. I would go with Jamie to supply the front two for Hearts.
“Danny Lennon has got St Mirren playing okay, but they can be hit or miss, just like Hearts. Big Steven Thompson up front knows where the goal is and I think if Hearts cut out the supply to him, then they can win.
“The final is hard to call, because both teams are struggling in the league this season. Hopefully both teams will go for it, because the winners are going to have a trophy from what would have been a poor season otherwise.”