DEFENSIVE concerns were obvious given Hearts had lost eight goals in three games prior to Saturday. Inverness further exposed the frailties by scoring a three more, all coming from set-pieces, to leave the Edinburgh club with a third straight defeat and a seriously aggrieved bunch of fans.
An added worry is how to arrest the decline in form with a League Cup final less than three weeks away. Events have conspired against Hearts and their manager, John McGlynn, with a multitude of injuries and suspensions this season, not to mention financial problems which threatened the club’s very existence. Nonetheless, supporters are now restless and openly voicing their concern.
For the second successive week, Hearts players trudged down the tunnel to jeers. Much of it may have been aimed at McGlynn, below, whose tactics are being questioned by the Tynecastle public. Two Gary Warren headers and a close-range Billy McKay goal granted Inverness their first win in Gorgie in over five years. Despite Hearts twice drawing level, first through Jason Holt and then Andy Webster, the visitors had an aerial advantage which they exploited.
It is a particularly tough upbringing right now for those fresh out of the Riccarton youth academy. Following losses against Kilmarnock and Dundee United, defeat to Inverness left Tynecastle in a depressed state. Even Holt, who scored an impressive first goal for Hearts, could not deny the demoralising effect of the last few weeks. He and others like Callum Tapping, Fraser Mullen, Jamie Walker, Kevin McHattie and Billy King are having to quickly learn the harsh reality of battling for points at first-team level.
“Coming through the youth academy, we’ve been playing football and getting results every week and it’s all been jolly,” said Holt.
“When you step up to the first team, it’s different. It’s an even bigger battle and we need to fight our corner and pick up as many points as we can. First-team football is a completely different matter to under-20s or under-19s. It might be difficult but we just need to get on with it and do our own jobs. Hopefully we can get a little run going after Wednesday against St Mirren.
“It’s great to be playing for Hearts’ first team. A lot of people would jump at this chance. It is hard when you’ve got days like Saturday when you aren’t getting points. I was delighted to get a goal but the main thing was the result and we didn’t manage to get it. The whole team is really disappointed but we have a big game on Wednesday and we need to pick ourselves up for that. We need to learn from these situations. This will make us better players. Webby and Darren Barr and people like that are helping us through games but sometimes you need to pick yourself up and do your own job.”
Rather than look ahead to the cup final, Holt stressed he and his colleagues cannot afford to be distracted from league business. “We’re in a tough situation and we need to concentrate on the league games,” he continued. “We’re playing quite well. Last week we probably didn’t deserve much from the game but on Saturday I thought we deserved at least a point. We’re conceding quite sloppy goals and that’s what it comes down to.”
Four out of the five goals stemmed from set-pieces in a game not overloaded with quality but nevertheless enthralling. Inverness were especially adept at using their physical advantage. For some time Hearts have been tagged as one of the SPL’s more aggressive teams but their young academy graduates were too often brushed aside by giants like Owain Tudur Jones, Ross Draper and, of course, Warren.
“The club has taken a few hits but you’re always going to fight your corner,” said Holt in relation to players like Ryan McGowan leaving and others like Zaliukas and Danny Grainger suffering serious injuries. “The players who have come in will fight their battle and try to spur the club on. It can only be a good thing for us as young players. Thankfully we’re getting the opportunity. Big players have left or are injured and that hasn’t helped the situation but we’re here and we need to do a job and pick up points. As young players, you’re always looking to take these experiences on board.
“It’s tough but I’m sure it’s going to help in the long run.”
Terry Butcher, the Inverness manager, marvelled at the fact his team had masterminded set-plays after practising them in the build-up to Saturday’s match. “We worked on set-pieces on Friday and Aaron Doran (who took most of them) had to go inside because he twisted his ankle so he didn’t take part. We’re back second in the league, which is lovely. We’re having a real slump and we’re second in the table.
“It’s wonderful,” laughed Butcher. “It was a gritty performance and it answers a lot of questions for us on how to win a game. We’re scoring goals and looking good again. We had to defend well at times because Hearts put us under pressure. It’s nice to be back and be on the winning way again.
“It was a real battle and a scrap. Hearts competed really well, there were lots of yellow cards but I didn’t see any bad tackles in the game. We could’ve let our heads go down having taken the lead twice and been pegged back twice. It’s good to hold on to something for once. The character showed was excellent and we played some decent football at times.”