As the countdown to their first Betfred Cup fixture against Cove Rangers on Wednesday evening approaches, Hearts won this friendly against League 1 Forfar at Station Park every bit as resoundingly as the scoreline suggests. It will still be a surprise, however, if many from this highly experimental squad that got a run-out yesterday earn a place on the coach for the meeting with the Highland League champions.
The performances of several fringe players and new arrivals nevertheless augured well in terms of the depth of pool that Craig Levein is currently assembling.
Fielding a completely different starting XI to the side that met Queen of the South in midweek, Hearts opted to put the emphasis on youth with Ross Callachan the most recognisable first team player on view. Liam Smith captained the side for the day and the line-up also featured Juke Mulraney, signed from Inverness Caley Thistle at the end of last season.
Despite this apparent lack of experience, the Tynecastle men did not want for belief or cohesion and they raced to an early two-goal lead as their pace and positional play seemed to catch the hosts off guard. Callachan had already tested Forfar goalkeeper Marc McCallum as early as the second minute with a low drive but the midfielder did not have to wait long to make the breakthrough as his low volley deceived McCallum and bounced in off the post. Only three minutes later Mulraney doubled Hearts advantage, getting on the end of an Andy Irving cross to finish from close range.
The Angus club had enjoyed an impressive pre-season going into this fixture, having beaten and drawn with Championship opposition in the shape of Ayr United and Morton respectively.
After appearing somewhat shell-shocked at this early onslaught they slowly gained a foothold in the game. Dylan Easton tested Hearts’ trialist goalkeeper Kevin Silva with a decent effort and the latter had to look alert again to block an Andy Munro header. Some meaty challenges were also forthcoming from the part-timers, with left back Bobby Burns taking the brunt of it as the hosts’ Jamie Bain and Michael Travis laid him flat in quick succession.
Hearts extended their lead shortly after the interval as Burns lofted the ball across the face of McCallum’s goal and Dario Zanatta was able to send a header into the net from a couple of yards. The second half, however, was a more open and evenly balanced affair as the inevitable spate of substitutions impacted on the game’s dynamics. The introduction of a trialist by the hosts brought a near immediate reward as he was brought down in the box and the experienced John Baird lashed in the resultant penalty to reduce the deficit.
Among the replacements for the Tynecastle men was Harry Cochrane, as the average age of those on the playing field for the visitors continued to fall but they continued to comfortably hold the upper hand. They added a fourth goal through Rory Currie after some fine work in the box by fellow substitute Anthony McDonald left him with a simple finish.
As Forfar began to tire, Hearts book-ended the game with a finale almost as dominant as their opening salvo and Currie grabbed his second of the afternoon and his side’s fifth with a well-executed strike from a Burns cross.