Hearts reaction: Are fans wrong over Shankland, Davidson ‘sick of the sight’ of one Jambo, 'best of Barrie'
Why Shankland doesn't needed to be 'pushed closer to goal'
After Hearts lost to Motherwell, there were increased calls for Lawrence Shankland to be ‘pushed further up the pitch and closer to goal’. Essentially as the central figure rather than in a slightly withdrawn role. An understandable frustration because he is the club’s No 9 and top scorer. But context is needed. He is also the team’s best link player as he demonstrated once more in the win over St Johnstone. You want to get him involved in the final third as much as possible and that means getting the ball to his feet. You don’t want him running in behind, that’s not his game, that is what Josh Ginnelly brings to the team. Also, you don’t want him battling with towering centre-backs and being eaten up. Ideally, for him, he is front and centre as the team fires in crosses for him to attack but Hearts don’t play with out-and-out wingers. Against St Johnstone you saw a very good and effective Lawrence Shankland. He was constantly involved, dropping into pockets, off the defence and behind the opposing midfield. Only the defensive trio had more touches. He set up Michael Smith with a great flick. He was, as he frequently is, a reliable target. Team-mates know if they give him the ball he will take care of it and is capable of turning with it. The issue has been Hearts have played too deep which has rocked Shankland and others deeper. The onus is on his team-mates to support him and give him the platform to demonstrate his excellent footballing ability and intelligence. He's just far too good to be battling defenders and not involved in the way the team build up play.
St Johnstone felt 3-0 flattered the home side. They had spells where they were the better team and with a bit more about them in the final third will feel they could have not only troubled Hearts more but got ahead in the match. It was clear Nicky Clark was a key miss in the final third, suffering from a rolled ankle. Callum Davidson's men worked the ball into good areas and Stevie May was a constant threat to the Hearts right, getting the better of James Hill, especially in the first half. But they lacked the nous of the 31-year-old Clark. St Johnstone have been at their best when Clark and May are paired together in attack. May is given freedom to move vertically and into wide areas whereas his team-mate acts as that central focal point. His experience and knowledge in attack have been such a huge addition following the departure of Callum Hendry. Connor McLennan is a willing and mobile forward but he doesn't have the same instincts as Clark. And that was missed.
St Johnstone’s Ginnelly curse
Saints boss Callum Davidson was asked about Hearts forward Josh Ginnelly. The forward’s double took him to five goals in six appearances against the McDiarmid Park side. “I am sick of the sight of him, yes,” he said. “It’s funny how some players enjoy playing against people and he’s scored against us again.” The Englishman returned to the starting XI after missing the Motherwell defeat through suspension where his presence was missed. He provided Hearts with the pace outlet that was required, always on the move and stretching St Johnstone.
Hearts forward Barrie McKay was pretty forthright in the build-up to the St Johnstone game when asked about his form following criticism amongst the club's support. He spoke about negativity and numbers, of more focus on him from opposition. On the field he responded with two assists and no player completed more dribbles than his five. "Barrie's a top player,” Robbie Neilson said. “He's probably technically the best player we've got or one of the best players. You see in games, teams will put two players on him or three players and it can be difficult at times. I've said it a million times, we had so many injuries at the start of the season that we were asking our creative players to play Sunday-Thursday-Sunday-Thursday-Sunday-Thursday. They lose that spark. I think you are starting to see the best of Barrie now.”
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