In a bid to solve the defensive issues which have plagued his side in recent weeks, under-fire Hearts head coach Ian Cathro took the unusual measure of inserting career midfielder Prince Buaben into the centre of the Hearts defence for Saturday’s visit of Dundee.
Though it raised a few eyebrows prior to kick-off, the move turned out to be a highly important factor in the hosts ending a run of three successive defeats, as Buaben looked completely at home with his new surroundings.
The longest-serving foreign-born player in the Hearts first-team, Buaben showed terrific anticipation and positional skills to routinely deny Dundee when the hosts threatened in Hearts’ territory.
It helped the home side record only the second clean sheet in their last nine matches and secured a much-needed victory thanks to Esmael Goncalves’ 13th minute strike.
“It’s not something new,” said Buaben of his deployment in the back four. “It’s where I started my career when I was young at Ajax. Then at Dundee United, Craig [Levein] played me a few times there. So I was quite used to it and comfortable there.”
“I’m a football player. It’s not a position I’m going to say no to but, if you asked me, I would rather play midfield. But if I have to do a job at centre-back, I feel comfortable doing it.”
On the job done by midfielder Alexandros Tziolis, who would drop back into defence at times to counteract the physical threat of Marcus Haber, Buaben praised the efforts of his team-mate. “He is a big experienced guy. He helped me and Krystian a lot in defence. The striker was quite big and I’m not used to this kind of thing so he helped us a lot and made us feel comfortable on the ball.”
Nobody at Hearts is getting carried away. Results haven’t been good enough under Ian Cathro and a 1-0 win over Dundee, regardless of how comfortable Hearts were, is hardly going to appease those in the crowd who already want a change of manager. But the Hearts squad retain a sense of belief that, with a little time and patience, the supporters will soon see the results from the hard work put in on training ground.
“Sometimes you have a tough period and you just have to grind it out,” added Buaben. “I’m not going to say that we don’t work hard. We all know that in training we do our best but sometimes things don’t go our way. We just have to grind it out and look forward.
“We all know what we can do. If you watch the game, you can see the gaffer is trying to put an idea in the team. A lot of the boys like having a manager that wants to play football. Sometimes it takes a while. Rome wasn’t built in a day so I think we’ll come good – 100 per cent.”
Although the away side failed to penetrate the Hearts defence as much as they would have liked, they did a solid job themselves of limiting the hosts in terms of clear-cut chances created.
Dundee even had a defensive newcomer of their own in the shape of young Dan Higgins. The teenager, like Buaben, has largely been operating in midfield for the under-20s since his January move from Celtic, but looked completely at home in the Dundee back three.
“The gaffer spoke to me on Friday and told me just to get it in my head and to get ready,” said Higgins, who was making his debut on his 19th birthday with near enough his whole family in attendance.
“I thought I played quite well. I probably grew into the game a bit more, could have been better on the ball but I thought we were quite solid and limited them to a few chances and they took one of them. I thought it was quite good for a first performance.”