Hearts ace Andy Halliday on why he got a 'kick up the backside' and which team-mate has 'really impressed'

Christophe Berra eased to his left to make sure he wasn’t in the firing line, while goalkeeper coach Paul Gallacher looked on from afar. A bottle of water had just been launched up the Tynecastle Park Main Stand in frustration.

Neilson reckons the best of Halliday is still to come. Picture: SNS
Neilson reckons the best of Halliday is still to come. Picture: SNS

Just before the hour mark, Andy Halliday had been replaced by Jamie Walker.

Hearts were 3-0 down at home to Raith Rovers in what was arguably the worst 55 minutes of the club's season in terms of level of performance.

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The midfielder's bottle-throwing was emblematic of the afternoon until then and was probably shared by many thousands of fans watching on at home, if they hadn't already turned off.

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Halliday was one of a number of players who had an off day that afternoon. The type of player he is, the profile he has in Scottish football, he will get it in the neck more than most.

Add in his media work, where he is a hugely popular figure on Open Goal and he becomes a target for when things aren’t going well.

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The 29-year-old, however, doesn’t need to be told when things haven't gone well. As his own biggest critic, he knows, and puts that expectation and responsibility on his own shoulders.

Yet, it didn't stop Robbie Neilson having a word and demanding more.

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Halliday expressed his frustration after being subbed against Raith Rovers. Picture: SNS

‘Kick up the backside’

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“I have tried not to dwell on performances too much,” Halliday said.

“I have seen players in the past who missed pre-season and you are being patient with them but you think ‘they are training every day and how long is it taking them to get up to speed?’.

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"But it is difficult, I missed pre-season and I found my recovery in the first ten games or so quite tough. I feel I am probably at full fitness now.

Andy Irving has impressed midfield partner Halliday. Picture: SNS
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"I was disappointed with some performances recently, especially against Ayr at home.

"The manager had some stern words for me and that’s probably what I needed. He said to me I was doing fine but he didn’t bring me in to be fine and he needed more from me.

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"That gave me the kick up the backside I needed and I feel I have improved in the last few games. I still feel I can do even better.

“I’m fine with that. If you play for big clubs, you get big expectations. If I’m playing every game then I need to play well to stay in the team.

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Andy Halliday has been a regular under Robbie Neilson. Picture: SNS

“There were two performances last month where I was disappointed in myself, but I’m my own worst critic and I always know when I’ve let myself down.

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"It was important that I rectified that and started to put in some good performances over the past few weeks."

The barn door

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One of those arrived at Somerset Park last week in the scrappy 1-0 win.

Halliday was one of the best players on the pitch, displaying the attitude required to emerge victorious in such encounters, battling, running, winning second balls.

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He has been one of the most fouled players in the division but he has also been important in the final third ranking highly for smart passes and key passes, the former being one which breaks the opposition's defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack, while the latter is one which sets up an opportunity for a team-mate.

Perhaps of most importance, with midfield partner Andy Irving sitting, is his forward runs without the ball. The player has two goals to his name so far this campaign but is eager for more.

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“To be honest, I’ve been disappointed with the number of goals I have,” he said. “I scored two pretty early on in the season — and I can’t hit a barn door ever since! I’ve missed quite a few chances.

“I’m constantly pushing myself to get better and, although people tell me it’s positive that I’m getting in the right positions, I don’t see it as a positive if I’m missing the chances.”

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Competition

Halliday has started the last nine games, his best run since the 2016/17 season with Rangers. Neilson reckons he is getting towards his best, revealing after the Ayr game that “the more games he gets, the more we're starting to see the real Andy Halliday”.

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Even having forged and cultivated a partnership and understanding with Irving, the player is aware recent standards can’t slip.

“As much as I’m trying to help his game, with him being a young player, it’s important that I compete for a jersey,” he said.

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"I thought Aaron [McEneff] was really lively when he came on last week and we have Jamie Walker and Peter Haring, who can play in the middle, but I think competition brings out the best in players.

“I played the role that Andy Irving plays, and he does it really well. He’s more inclined to sit a bit deeper, get on the ball and try to be part of the build-up process.

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"Whereas getting forward and into the box is something I’ve tried to do throughout my career. So I’m more than happy to be the one who gets forward.”

Irving impresses

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While Halliday is contracted for next season, there is much angst amongst fans regarding the future of Irving.

The club are pushing for an extended deal with dialogue between him and his representatives and the club ongoing.

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Halliday has been “really impressed”, even somewhat surprised, by the quality of his midfield mate.

“I’ll hold my hands up and say he is someone that I didn’t know too much about before coming to the football club,” he said.

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"I knew that he had played some games for Hearts but I hadn’t watched an awful lot of him.

"Being at Hearts, I want to keep our best players. He certainly fits the bill.

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“Andy has progressed throughout the season.

"At the start, he was finding himself but around November he really grabbed a hold of that jersey. Hopefully Hearts can get that done.”

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