Michael Smith stresses the positives for goal-shy Hearts

Cole Stockton, right, and Marcus Fraser battle it out. Picture: SNS.
Cole Stockton, right, and Marcus Fraser battle it out. Picture: SNS.
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It says a lot about Hearts’ recent on-field predicament that this was, quite rightly, hailed as the best they have played in recent times, yet they still watched guests Ross County depart Tynecastle Park with a share of the spoils.

For a team adamant that they can still finish in the top four, it is not good enough. With more players returning to full fitness, affording manager Craig Levein more options in midfield, there are certainly signs of improvement, but everything is relative and some clever business will need to be conducted in January if they are to overhaul the teams above them and achieve their goals. On Saturday, no matter how hard they tried, goals proved beyond them against a well organised and determined side.

“It was just one of those days you get now and again, we dominated the game but just couldn’t stick the ball in the net,” said full-back Michael Smith. “But it was probably the best we have played in ages so we will take the positives from that. There is frustration as well, but when we look back at it we will see the amount of shots on goal we had.”

At least there was no backward step. Defeat would have allowed Owen Coyle’s men to leapfrog them and in the opening few minutes that was a real concern as Alex Schalk skelped an effort off the post. But with Jamie Walker and Arnaud Djoum back in the middle of the park and young Harry Cochrane helping move the ball about more briskly, it was the home side who took a grip of the game.

Cole Stockton was a willing focal point up front, using his strength to hold up the ball and allow Hearts to advance from deep. But the fact they had 23 shots at goal, ten of them on target, and still could not make the breakthrough was massively irritating for the men in maroon and a source of relief for their Highland opponents.

“The things we are working on in training are starting to show on the pitch,” added Smith. “It’s all things designed to help the strikers and you could see from the amount of chances we created that it’s coming together. It’s just about waiting for it to click. We have a good run of games coming up now, we have a lot of matches and we want to kick on.

“If we had won against Ross County the spirits would 
have been really high. It could easily have been 4-0.”

It wasn’t, though. Ross County were aggrieved to have a Schalk ‘goal’ chalked off in the first half but it was Hearts who were left to rue missed opportunities. Opposing keeper 
Aaron McCarey was a major barrier, with a late double save from Christophe Berra and then Isma Goncalves the pick of the bunch.