John Colquhoun: Hearts must play it cool against Celtic

JOHN Colquhoun quipped that former Hearts manager Joe Jordan made two good decisions during his time in the Tynecastle dugout.

John Colquhoun and Eilidh Child, amassadors for HMYD. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

One was forming the Hearts Youth Development Committee; the other selling him to Millwall in 1991 for £400,0000.

Former winger Colquhoun was back in Gorgie yesterday with British 400 metre hurdler Eilidh Child as the pair were unveiled as HYDC’s first ever ambassadors.

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Since its inception back in 1991 at the request of Jordan, HYDC has raised more than £700,000 for the Hearts Youth Academy.

While HYDC’s vital contribution will enhance the club’s efforts to nurture the stars of tomorrow, on Sunday it will all be about the present-day squad when Robbie Neilson’s side host Ladbrokes Premiership leaders Celtic.

Matches between the two teams at Tynecastle have become feisty affairs on and off the park and Colquhoun fully expects his old stomping ground to live up to its reputation as the most atmospheric in Scottish football.

But, while Hearts will be able to call on the support of nearly 16,000 of their own fans at a packed stadium on Sunday, the 52-year-old reckons that the noise emanating from the home sections can also work in the visitors’ favour.

“It’s difficult. If you go at Celtic, I think you get beat,” said Colquhoun.

“They will just pick you off and find ways through you.

“It’s really difficult – and I experienced this – if you’re at Hearts to sit in at Tynecastle, because that’s just not what the fans want.

“I don’t know if Robbie is saying let’s sit in deep, wait for them to come and we’ll try and hit them with [Jamie] Walker and [Sam[ Nicholson.

“But nearly all of the crowd are willing you to go forward. I’ve experienced it myself in European games. [Former manager] Alex [MacDonald] would be saying ‘just sit in for the first 20 minutes’ and then the crowd get behind you and all of a sudden we’re off.

“Human nature says it’s difficult to counter those feelings and that’s the difference between really top players, that they can cut out everything that goes on.

“I’m not sure it’s easy playing out there for Hearts when the fans are willing you forward.”

Hearts rode their luck on their way to collecting a creditable goalless draw at Parkhead in September before losing 2-1 in October’s League Cup clash in Edinburgh.

After the match in Glagsow, Hearts head coach Neilson talked about building a team that could go toe-to-toe with Celtic in their own backyard, rather than just one that soaked up 

But Colquhoun, who is close to Hearts director of football Craig Levein, doubts whether that is plausible.

“To have that team you have to build them over a period of four or five years and the nature of today’s game, it’s pretty transient,” added Colquhoun, who joined Hearts from Celtic for the first of his two spells at the club in 1985. “If you can get players that can play that way and go and compete at Celtic Park – which is a difficult place to go – and go toe-to-toe at Celtic, with the greatest respect they won’t be here. Somebody will come and pay one, two, three, four million for him.

“I absolutely understand the logic behind that and I think that will have been said over the last 60, 70 years.

“I think it’s more and more difficult because the gap has become bigger because of finance.”

Celtic’s surprise weekend defeat at home by Motherwell and Aberdeen’s victory at Kilmarnock mean the Dons are now only one point adrift of the summit, albeit the champions have a game in hand. But Colquhoun has flatly dismissed suggestions that a much-needed title race has been re-ignited.

He added: “I think it’s tighter than most people thought but Celtic will win the league. I’ve got no doubts about that. They’ve got the best players and the quality will show in the end.

“Derek McInnes has done an unbelievable job at Aberdeen.But I just think the quality and financial gap is too big.

“You only get what you pay for. It’s difficult. You can get results for so long but eventually Aberdeen will lose a couple of games but Celtic will not lose as many.”

Colquhoun admits Celtic manager Ronny Deila is under pressure – “like every other manager” – but he is thankful for the stability in the Hearts dugout after the revolving door policy of the hard-to-please former owner Vladimir Romanov.

Neilson, a former Hearts captain, is the club’s longest serving boss for 11 years.

“It’s great to have that stability,” added Colquhoun. “He’s been lucky that he can learn at such a high level. I’m a fan of the system Hearts have got.

“I think every club should have a director of football or technical director.

“I know the relationship between Robbie and Craig is exactly right.

“He’s got influence when Robbie wants him to have influence and he’s a good bridge between Robbie and [owner] Ann Budge and the rest of the board.

“I think Craig loves his job. You’d have to ask him if he could be tempted back into management but I wouldn’t think so.”