Players exchange harsh words as Hearts are outplayed and out-fought

Come the end of a very disappointing performance, as Hearts struggled to get going against a newly-promoted Ross County, who outplayed and outfought them, the Gorgie fans made their feelings known.

Hearts manager Craig Levein speaks to Zdenek Zlamal and Conor Washington at full time. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Hearts manager Craig Levein speaks to Zdenek Zlamal and Conor Washington at full time. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS

Apparently there was a 
further airing of opinions when the players escaped back to the relative sanctuary of the dressing room.

“I don’t think we got the shape that the manager wanted right, as a group of players,” admitted striker Conor Washington, who had two digs at goal, albeit from tight angles, denied by visiting keeper Ross Laidlaw. “I thought we were really poor in the second half to be honest and there were some words said in the changing room that needed to be said, especially around first and second balls.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

“I think in the second half they’ve come to our ground and dominated us and outfought us, which is a real disappointment.”

The issues were not just confined to the second half of the match. County restricted their hosts to just a couple of shots on target in the opening
45 minutes and caused consternation in the home ranks by rattling a defence, which was rejigged following last week’s injury to John Souttar and the suspension of Aaron Hickey, and unsupported by a midfield who seemed incapable of winning any clearance that made its way to the edge of the area or of linking up effectively with their own frontline, showing little fight or flair.

None of them was helped by home keeper Bobby Zlamal who seemed jittery as he flapped and punched at County efforts and scrambled about the box, apparently unsure of when to come out and when to stick to his line.

Even when times were at their toughest last term, Hearts never looked as disjointed or as lost and the fact there seemed to be little urgency to rectify the situation and no-one able to step up and take matters by the scruff of the neck, will be a concern for manager Craig Levein, who was already under pressure.

It must have been an uncomfortable debut for Loic Damour, the defensive midfielder signed on a four-year deal from Cardiff City on Friday. He showed promise and could not be held culpable but creatively the men around him were devoid of impact. As a whole, there was little evidence of an instinctive understanding and a lack of communication throughout the ranks only exacerbated that.

The deficiencies were magnified further by the fact that Hearts were outshone by a side who spent last season in the Championship but still turned up at Tynecastle with some swagger and an awareness that if they applied pressure then the crowd would turn on the home side and make their job easier.

It was an astute gameplan and worked well as the home players retreated into themselves and streetwise County grew in stature, using their workrate, physicality and ability to win second balls. And, had it not been for some really poor finishing they could have sauntered out of Edinburgh with a comfortable and well-deserved victory.

“It feels like dropped points,” confessed Ross County’s Ross Stewart. “In terms of the way the game went, you can tell from our dressing room that we’re disappointed not to win. We had the chances and, on another day, we would have come away with all three points. We know we’ve got quality in our squad.”

There were solid openings for men like Josh Mullin, Michael Gardyne, Billy Mckay and Stewart, men who could normally be relied on to take their fair share of such chances, but from the edge of the area and close range, they lashed shot after shot high or wide.

The best opportunity of all came in the 82nd minute, when Aidy White, making his first competitive start in two-and-a-half years, brought down Marcus Fraser to gift substitute Brian Graham, pictured inset, a spot kick but the former Hibs man struck his penalty off the post to give the home side a reprieve they had done little to merit.

“The gaffers may change their game plan for different
games. But we had a solid shape and were dangerous on the counter against Hearts,” added Stewart. “We worked on that all week and got a lot of end product.

“There is definitely no fear in this squad. The gaffers have made it clear that we’re here to have a go. We set up 4-4-2 against Hearts with an eye to causing them problems. And we did that. Not many teams will do that to Hearts at Tynecastle, so that says a lot about the quality and the strength of the squad we have, that we can go and get a point – in a game where anyone watching would say we probably should have won.”