Hearts were booed off the park despite winning the opening game of their 2016/17 season after a frustrated performance at Tynecastle. Craig Fowler looks at what caused the clear pre-match favourites to struggle to narrow a 2-1 win
Firstly, Infonet were a lot better than advertised. They lined up in a 3-4-3 formation that was both disciplined and dynamic. In attack they had a forward three of Vladimir Voskoboinikov (who showed the blend of power and mobility that Hearts wished they had from either Juanma or Conor Sammon), goalscorer Jegveni Harin and Nikolay Mashichev, all of whom interchanged position and exposed the lack of organisation in the Hearts defence. It seemed every member of the back four had their turn at a howler from a positional sense, and Hearts were fortunate that only Paterson was punished for his.
Infonet counter attacked with gusto and then, whenever the attack broke down, were rapid quick at getting back into position. The flanking attackers, Mashichev and Harin, would drop back to support the wing-backs, essentially making it a 5-4-1 in defence.
At first glance it appeared Hearts had shown a lack of respect to their opponents with a very attacking line-up. However, it would seem Robbie Neilson wanted to take advantage of the relatively small size of Infonet’s backline, none of whom were as a tall as Juanma or Sammon and only one, Ofosu Appiah, appeared over six foot in height. The gameplan was therefore to get balls wide to Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson and put crosses into the centre. It threatened to work in the first half with Juanma close on a couple of occasions, and flagged offside a couple of times more.
The reason it didn’t work as effectively as it could have is because Infonet shut down Hearts’ space on the wings with the discipline of their wing attackers. The reason they were able to do so was because Hearts simply didn’t move the ball quickly enough. The way to find space around a team intent of sitting deep is to play with real urgency. Hearts barely left walking pace. There were opportunities to get two-on-ones on the outside with Paterson and new signing Faycal Rherras more than willing to get forward, but it never happened. Even when Hearts realised there was a counter-attacking opportunity, a poor touch or wayward pass would bring it to a halt.
It got worse in the second half when Juanma was substituted for Billy King, with Walker taking up residence alongside Sammon. The centre of the park became too crowded for anyone to build an attack through there, while Hearts’ threat from the wing was diminished by the lack of the extra target man in the centre.
The positives for Hearts belong in the negatives. They were too slow, clumsy and lacked concentration, all of which will improve with time. It’s difficult as a supporter to apply rationale when you’ve watched your side offer up a poor showing, but this was the first game of Hearts’ season after only two weeks of preparation. Infonet, by contrast, are halfway through their campaign. And, let’s not forget this, Hearts still won the game. 2-1 is a precarious lead to take away from home, but all Hearts have to do is avoid defeat and they’re in the next round. And as bad as it was, they’ll be a better team for playing that fixture last night.