Hearts reaction: Zander Clark apology, fans deserve better, Neilson and player failing, McInnes opportunity
Hearts travelling fans deserve a lot better
For the second Premiership fixture in a row, a big away support from Gorgie – 2,200 of them – were let down by the players who represent them on the pitch. That was made abundantly clear at full-time when the players went across to clap those who stayed behind after full-time at Rugby Park. And there were plenty who wanted to express their feelings. Anger, frustration, disappointment. Fans are fearful that the team is throwing away third place. Remarkably, Hearts have picked up the sixth most away points yet they have won just three games on their travels in the league all season. It is nothing new. The club have been notoriously poor travellers for years, for decades even. The vast majority of top-flight campaigns since the 1991/92 season to be accurate. The last time the team won ten or more top-flight away games in a single season. Even then it was a 44-game campaign. It was yet another letdown on the road but one which still stung badly.
When the majority of the Hearts players had approached the visiting support, told in no uncertain terms what the fans thought before trudging to the tunnel, Zander Clark offered up a gesture in a way of apology. The goalkeeper didn't have the best of afternoons at Rugby Park. He was unable to gather a stinging Liam Donnelly effort before bringing down Kyle Vassell for a penalty. Later in the half he received treatment for a hamstring issue before coming out and failing to connect with a Daniel Armstrong cross which Christian Doidge was able to bundle into the net. He didn’t reappear after the interval. The 30-year-old could easily have headed for the bus at full-time, instead he at least took the braver decision to front up and offer a gesture which said sorry.
Easy to play against
One of the biggest issues at play for Hearts is how easy they have been to play against, to stop and to neuter. Robbie Neilson's men have learned no lessons from defeats at Motherwell and Aberdeen. It was the same again at Rugby Park. Plenty of possession, very little penetration. It's a failing of the manager and the players. Neilson spoke of the need to pass the ball forward for his players to run forward. There has been a real issue around what has been asked of the players and then carrying out those instructions. Next Saturday brings home comforts for the team with St Mirren at Tynecastle Park. But it will soon become very, very uncomfortable if there is not a reaction, if those players are not playing forward, running forward.
Build team around Watson
Of the 20 players in the Kilmarnock squad on Saturday, only three– Daniel Armstrong, Rory McKenzie and David Watson – are under contract beyond next season. Add in Kerr McInroy and Bobby Wales and manager Derek McInnes has four first-team players scheduled to return for pre-season training. There are 26 players on either expiring contracts or loan deals which run out in the summer. It is a huge opportunity, providing Killie stay up, for McInnes to work with a blank canvas and rebuild the side. He should do so by building around 18-year-old midfielder David Watson, and getting him on an extended contract. Across two appearances he has demonstrated he has a bit of everything. There was midfield control against St Johnstone, popping the ball around, long and short with ease, and then against Hearts he was a tenacious terrier. He didn’t give Robert Snodgrass a second’s piece and generally disrupted his opponents.
“Our home form would get us fighting for Europe and our away form would get us relegated,” Derek McInnes said. “For those fans who travel and watch us on the road they have had nothing to really shout about other than the cup games and a couple of points here and there but it’s been nowhere near good enough.” Killie have picked up 92.9 per cent of their points this season at Rugby Park. Their home form has kept their head above water and has them six points away from bottom spot. Two of their remaining three pre-split games are away from home, against Aberdeen and St Mirren. McInnes revealed the team will tweak how they train in preparation for Saturday's trip to Pittodrie, including training on grass.
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