Craig Levein upbeat as Hearts seek strongest line-up

New Hearts signing Olly Lee, No 8, angles the ball into the Partick Thistle net to put his side 2-1 ahead. Picture: SNS
New Hearts signing Olly Lee, No 8, angles the ball into the Partick Thistle net to put his side 2-1 ahead. Picture: SNS
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Craig Levein’s new Hearts side are gaining momentum after three successive pre-season victories. The manager has already settled on his defence and goalkeeper for this season, but admitted places elsewhere are very much there to be won.

New arrivals Olly Lee and Ben Garuccio scored for the first time in Scotland in yesterday’s 3-1 friendly win against Partick Thistle at Cowdenbeath. Wing-back Garuccio hit a 25-yard effort and midfielder Lee did likewise before a late low shot secured the victory.

Levein named a young three-man defence with teenagers Daniel Baur and Alex Petkov beside 22-year-old Liam Smith. Behind them was trialist goalkeeper Kevin Silva.

When competitive business begins, Levein intends using Peter Haring, John Souttar and Christophe Berra as his back line in front of the Czech keeper Zdenek Zlamal. Those four played on Saturday in a 2-0 win over Dumbarton, which followed last Tuesday’s 2-1 victory against Arbroath.

“It will take a bit of time for me to get to know my preferred 11,” explained Levein. The three who played at the back on Saturday and the goalkeeper will play. Apart from that, I’ll wait and see what happens in the next two games.

“There were some obvious good things yesterday. Olly got a couple of goals and generally played really well. [Oliver] Bozanic was also good and the two strikers did well. I also thought the young lads at the back did okay as well. It was a good workout. We didn’t get anybody injured. We got Harry Cochrane back from illness, so that’s his first real game time from this pre-season. Kyle Lafferty also got some game time and he looked quite sharp.”

Saturday’s win at Dumbarton was the precursor to this engagement at Cowdenbeath as Hearts embarked on two games in two days.

Uche Ikpeazu struck his first two goals for his new club in an efficient display which saw Zlamal record a clean sheet in his first Hearts appearance.

Partick Thistle were expected to provide a more stringent test just weeks after their relegation from the Ladbrokes Premiership. Although Hearts were officially the home team, the game was staged in Fife to let Tynecastle Park’s new hybrid pitch bed in a little longer before Betfred Cup action starts.

Ali Crawford was conspicuous by his absence after Hearts ended their interest in the trialist midfielder. A different starting line-up to Saturday started this game at a good tempo on a firm and bumpy pitch and moved ahead inside two minutes. Left wing-back Garuccio ambled forward to clip a 25-yard effort over the Partick goalkeeper Aaron Lennox and high into the net.

Lafferty was enjoying his first summer outing having been absent for family reasons and looked energetic enough. He often had to drop deep to gain possession, though. Thistle pressed relatively high and got in behind the Hearts wing-backs on three occasions. Save for James Penrice’s drive, Silva was not unduly troubled until the 38th minute.

Partick midfielder Craig Slater whipped a free-kick from the left flank into the penalty area, where centre-back Thomas O’Ware was on the run to glance the ball into the net.

Garuccio lashed another dangerous-looking effort not far over Lennox’s bar at the start of the second period. Ryan Edwards then collected a clever backheel from Steven MacLean on the run in what was Hearts’ most flowing attacking move. The former Thistle player entered the penalty area to shoot but was thwarted by Lennox.

On 55 minutes, Hearts’ second did arrive. Lee controlled a loose ball 25 yards out and angled a beautiful finish high into the top corner for his first goal in Scotland.

The Tynecastle side looked reasonably comfortable at that stage, although the unmarked O’Ware nodded a free header wide from Blair Spittal’s free-kick in the 70th minute.

Lee made certain of victory with an angled left-footed shot 13 minutes from full-time which nestled low in the corner.