Michael Smith has become the latest player from the Hearts dressing room to advance the case for Austin MacPhee to be given the role of manager on a full-time basis.
MacPhee himself has done much to aid his cause having led the team to a 5-2 victory over St Mirren on Saturday.
The match was considered must win and was described by the interim manager as a “relegation cup final”. Hearts secured the win and, crucially, did so in style. It was the first time since August 2016 that they had scored five goals in the league. Jake Mulraney and Steven Naismith later reported that MacPhee’s influence had helped put Hearts on track following the disappointment of the previous weekend’s Betfred Cup semi-final defeat by Rangers, days after Craig Levein’s dismissal.
“Any win was going to be a good result but to go out and score five goals it really showed we had worked on a game plan and it had worked for us,” said Smith, who was speaking from the Northern Ireland international camp prior to forthcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers against the Netherlands and Germany. “Fair play to Austin, he set it all in motion and the boys put it in place.”
In view of the importance of the fixture, MacPhee decided to take the players away to St Andrews in the run up to last Saturday, something they last did prior to May’s Scottish Cup final against Celtic.
“I missed out on the St Andrews trip because I had a wee niggling injury from the weekend before but the lads all said training was really good,” said Smith. “He is always thorough in his preparation, that’s what I really like about him.”
Smith, of course, was always likely to be in favour of MacPhee, given they first worked with each other at Northern Ireland. When the versatile Smith became available to sign from Peterborough, Hearts were swiftly on the case thanks to MacPhee. “He is the one that sold the club to me and sold Edinburgh to me,” said the player.
Despite his involvement at the top level with Northern Ireland, whom he represented at Euro 2016 as Michael O’Neill’s assistant, some have scoffed at MacPhee’s credentials.
During a discussion on Saturday’s edition of Sportsound on BBC Radio Scotland prior to the Hearts game, Willie Miller suggested MacPhee needed to “get a life” for suggesting Hearts should be aiming to be regulars in the Europa League. Some have suggested this attitude is informed by MacPhee having not played football at a high level.
“Jose Mourinho helped buck that trend,” countered Smith. “He was not a massive football name and look what he has done in the game. As long as the club gets results while Austin is in charge he is the right man for it.”
Smith agrees with owner Ann Budge that there is no rush, with MacPhee more than capable of holding the fort for the time being.
“Ann has come out this week and said she is going to take her time and I think that’s right,” he said. “It is a massive decision for the club. We are all behind that, there is no rush to get a new manager in. Everyone has enjoyed this week. We got a massive result on Saturday; why not take more time if the results continue?
“We have released some of the pressure around the club and given Ann some time to make a decision,” he added. “If Austin is in charge for the foreseeable future, then I am behind that decision.
“The mood was definitely down because we were not performing well and we were not winning games. But as soon as you win that game on Saturday the mood in the dressing room was tremendous. I hope we can hold on to that feeling and push on and re-create it for the Kilmarnock game and then Rangers after that.”
The versatile Smith returned to his natural position of right-back against St Mirren after MacPhee brought an end to a spell in which he was deployed at centre-half.
“I honestly don’t mind, if I am in the starting XI I am happy,” he said. “I was enjoying playing centre-half and I thought I was playing really well but when I got injured they were working in training on the shape and Clevid [Dikamona] was playing there.
“Austin explained if I was going to play, he would play me at right-back and I had no problem with that – and I got two assists so it was not a bad move.”