Hearts boss Daniel Stendel defends his tactics and urges players to ‘press better’

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel is confident his tactics will come good. Picture: Bill Murray / SNSHearts manager Daniel Stendel is confident his tactics will come good. Picture: Bill Murray / SNS
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel is confident his tactics will come good. Picture: Bill Murray / SNS
After conceding three goals in each of their most recent couple of outings, rescuing a draw in one and losing the other, the revelation that Hearts manager Daniel Stendel is expecting this evening’s Scottish Cup match against Falkirk to be “similar to the last two games”, will not fill the travelling fans with optimism.

But the Tynecastle boss, who says he is sticking with the gegenpress style of play he favours, believes his squad will be wise after the events and with players like Michael Smith returning to the fold, he said: “We’ve analysed their recent games, which is normal. We expect it to be similar to the last two games but we can hopefully show that we’ve learned and understand what happened.

“It’s a cup game but, for Falkirk, it’s a big, big chance. They will fight, it won’t be easy. It’s what we expect in a lot of games in the league.

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“We have said that we have better players, better squad and we can play better, but now, I think, after Wednesday I hope we all understand that we have to take responsibility
for the situation and we can still show we have better players but we have to give the other team a fight and show that we can win the fight.”

With Toby Sibbick still bedridden with illness, the return of Smith to the holding midfield slot is timely.

He can help prevent the side from becoming too stretched and leaving the centre-backs too exposed, especially with full-backs being asked to advance. But Stendel
says a more unified on-field approach is the answer to those who doubt his tactics.

“I think the reason is not the shape,” he said. “The idea is that we do things at the same time, together. When we press forward we need to defend in front and when we are defending in front, we need to press the first line.

People can ask why are we not defending better, but also why do we not press better? It is only important that we do those things together. If we need to change some things in our behaviour then we will do it. It is important that we win the game. But the idea that we’re passive and just wait for mistakes is not our game. Not in the past, not in the future and not now. You need to understand that we can defend better but it is not the goalie, it is not the back four, it is all the players on the pitch.

“To play how I want at a club like Hearts, I need to have the quality to play that style and this is what I expect from our players.”

Being forced to watch from the stand as he recovered from a groin strain proved useful to Smith’s understanding of the manager’s demands, according to the defender turned midfielder.

It has also helped steer him towards a decision on a potential coaching career once he quits playing.

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“On the pitch, it feels 100 miles an hour. In the stand, you can see the style of play and the positions he wants the boys in,” said Smith. “Most of the time you can just see the gaffer jumping about mad. I enjoy watching that from the sidelines. I think it’s funny and it gives the players a bit more energy. You see his enthusiasm and it makes you want to go out there and fight for him.”

The frustration is that, since the last round of the competition, Smith has been unable to do that.

“I hate when I’m not out there playing but, at the same time, I quite enjoy it because you see things from a different vantage point,” he added. “I’m swithering about doing my coaching badges at the moment and, watching from the sidelines, it’s appealing to me a lot more.”

And his watching brief has left him better placed to help the team. “I didn’t enjoy the last two results but I enjoyed watching the boys and analysing things in a different way,” said Smith. “You can come in, speak to the younger lads and give them a bit of advice, going on what you’ve seen.

“I like the gaffer’s style of play. He’s not going to change the way he wants to play – front-foot, getting high up the pitch and pressing teams. We just need to sort out the defensive things.”