Hearts mount impressive comeback but Levein not carried away

Peter Haring equalises for Hearts against Hamilton. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
Peter Haring equalises for Hearts against Hamilton. Picture: Roddy Scott/SNS
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By the end of the game, a pocket of Hearts fans were singing songs warning Celtic that they were going to win the league this term.

An unlikely scenario but it suggests that some of the doom and gloom that had descended following last season’s assorted difficulties and fuelled by uncertainty as further sweeping changes were made to the squad this summer had been dispelled.

Either that or a few too many refreshments had been consumed pre-match.

More likely, it was simply that the travelling fans were relishing seeing their team pose a stronger attacking threat, while also proving they have a bit of fight and belief about them.

That, it appears, is contagious, as the support stuck with them when they deservedly went a goal down and got their rewards as Hearts hit back with a quick equaliser and then, in the second half, added three more in a potent 13 minutes.

However, manager Craig Levein was cautious in his response to the opening-day victory.

“We didn’t start very well and they were much better than us. But in hindsight it is not a bad thing to dig in and turn it around. It makes us feel quite good about ourselves.

“But no disrespect, I think we will face tougher tests in the coming weeks.”

Newcomers like Steven MacLean and Peter Haring contributed far more than just their goals and they were not the only recruits who showed they have the game and the grit to help Hearts serve up sterner competition this season. They still have weaknesses that can be exploited and, at times, particularly in the first half, Hamilton did just that. But Levein is adamant that this was not the finished article.

“There are some good signs that we can do better than we did, but I am not getting too carried away after one game.”

That reticence stems from an opening period that saw his side rocked by Hamilton’s positive approach, the speed at which they pressed forward and passed the ball into areas that pulled the Hearts rearguard out of position.

Having tested Zdenek Zlamal with a Rakish Bingham shot the keeper had to be out sharp to block, the home side drew first blood with a 16th-minute goal from Mickel Miller. Aaron Hughes was too slow to clear and although he argued for a foul, he was outmuscled by Miller, who got in between him and the keeper to slot into the net.

Hearts, though, responded three minutes later. Haring had had successive attempts to head past Gary Woods from set pieces and deep balls back into the area, but Hamilton failed to learn the lesson and it was third time lucky.

With honours even, it was the travelling side who were first out for the second half, and the way the started expressed just how keen they were to get three points in the bag before they play host to champions Celtic next week.

In a team blessed with several intelligent footballers, MacLean, who previously had struggled with plastic pitches, was again immense in the way he linked up play, dictated patterns and helped set the tempo and his play reaped dividends as he also got the side’s fourth and final goal in the 62nd minute with an angled drive across the keeper.

“He is a good foil for Uche and Kyle. I didn’t expect him to play so many matches but I feel it’s hard to leave him out. He has been pestering me to play on the astroturf and I have no reason to drop him.”

By the time he scored Hearts had rattled in two more goals. One from a Steven Naismith penalty after Uche Ikpeazu stabbed a ball into open space in the box and the experienced Hearts man reacted first and was toppled. The second came when Ikpeazu was awarded a foul, a decision that had more often gone against him throughout a game where he was just bigger and stronger than opponents.

“He’s just stronger,” said Levein, “and sometimes he gets penalised. He did a lot of really good things. But I’m just hoping that people realise he shouldn’t be penalised for being stronger than other players.”

From the set piece, the ball was eventually played into the area and Haring netted his second.

Those quick-fire goals gave Hamilton no way back and left manager Martin Canning bemoaning a lack of experience in his side.

It is something he needs to address but for Hearts, there was promise in the way they started the season. However, with a long way to go, tougher tests to follow and work still to be done, they will simply take the three points and leave it to others to get carried away.