League Cup final: Now it’s reality for Gary Locke
SOMETIMES the best film scripts never make it into production. Half a century on from Hearts’ last League Cup triumph, the scene was set at Hampden for Gary Locke to end that long drought – just a day after being appointed as the club’s full-time manager.
It would have been a dream start; perhaps one without parallel in Scottish football. And perhaps that had something to do with the timing of the appointment, which came after a week and more in which Peter Houston had appeared to be on the verge of taking the job.
Locke’s leadership qualities were obvious to anyone who saw him as a Hearts player. He has an unquenchable self-confidence which means he never knew when he was beaten – and indeed, he never was beaten in the Edinburgh derby as a player.
That same quality has stood him in good stead as a coach, and if he had ended up on the winning side yesterday, he might well have taken on the aura of a man destined to succeed. Instead, he now has to deal with the blow of losing a major game, and get down to the realities of reconstructing a Hearts squad which might not contend for honours for several more years at least. Locke’s mental strength will help him in that respect, as will his knowledge of the history of the club he grew up supporting. Hearts were on the verge of holding both knockout competitions for the first time in their existence, but he knows that adversity is a more common state at Tynecastle than such success.
And, no matter the evident disappointment of this 3-2 defeat by St Mirren, Locke showed that he is already learning and maturing as a manager in his post-match remarks, when he declined to be too critical of his players. He is well aware that tough times may be ahead, and that unity will be required if the club is to make progress under him.
“Full credit to the players, we never gave up, and that’s the type of commitment and desire that’s required at the football club,” he said. “I can’t fault the players in terms of effort. I was disappointed in the first ten minutes of the second half, because they just didn’t get going at all, and that’s cost us.
“There’s always defining moments in games. If Suttie [John Sutton] scores with the header [with Hearts 1-0 up] there probably would have been a different outcome. It’s all ifs and buts. We never took our chances on the day and we’re sitting here as losers. At the time we looked more likely to get the second goal than St Mirren did to equalise, but it was a poor goal defensively from our point of view.
“The start of the second half was for me the turning point of the game, because we just didn’t get started. Really we needed the second goal just to give us a wee bit of a cushion. But with not getting that, it always gives St Mirren a chance of getting back into the game, and to their credit they did that.
“We set the team up to try and win the game. I was pleased with a lot of the performance today, in terms of some of the stuff we played and the effort and commitment of the players, but we shot ourselves in the foot at the start of the second half.”
Hearts looked dead and buried for a while after they fell 3-1 behind, but after Ryan Stevenson’s second, St Mirren had to ride their luck as the Edinburgh club went in search of a late equaliser. Locke argued that, with a little more composure – which perhaps only comes with greater experience than most of his players have – they might even have got it, and forced the game into extra time.
“We put a lot of balls into the box. Ryan has got that bit of composure, and he showed that with the two goals he scored. But, when it’s getting to that stage of the game, we’re just getting balls in the box, there’s that many bodies in the box, you’re just hoping it drops to one of our boys. But, unfortunately for us, it never.
“Ryan’s commitment and effort today is the kind of stuff I’m looking for as manager. The players gave us everything today – it was just really disappointing the way we started the second half. It was a great game for the neutral. Not so much for myself. End to end, five goals – it was just unfortunate for us we didn’t get most of them.”
Having once stood on the Tynecastle terraces himself when ruled out of playing in a match for Hearts, Locke has always had an excellent relationship with the club’s support, and he made a point of praising their contribution. “A special mention to the supporters and the way they’ve rallied round the club. They’ve turned out in their thousands today. I’m just really disappointed for all of them.
“I would have liked nothing more than to give them a trophy today. There’s been a lot happened off the pitch, and the players deserve enormous credit the way that they’ve played in the last four or five weeks.
“We’ve all got to stick together. The players gave us everything, the fans gave us everything, and that’s the only way the club’s going to move forward.”
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 2 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 21 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West