What Unlucky Bastards Are We
Of all the times for it to happen; no, Hearts didn’t need this, and no, Hearts didn’t deserve it. There were a lot of encouraging signs on and off the pitch. Levein realised at half-time that there were things weren’t happening, so he changed the team (at nil-nil, don’t forget) and it worked. He’s not afraid. Even after going a goal down – and it was a quality goal, not a defensive lapse – things looked better, and Hearts dominated the second half with a lot of movement and fast passing. We’re as blunt as a badger up front, however, so most of the good work came to naught, and it was the stupidity of Charlie Miller that gave us the equaliser, deliberately handling just outside the box on the right. For the one and only time Boyack put in a wickedly dipping cross and Simmons’ crossward header was hard and true. From that moment there was only going to be one winner so when only three minutes of injury time were displayed on the board it was Hearts fans who were groaning, wishing the game could carry on for another half-hour. So the winner was in the ‘I don’t – sodding – believe it,” through-gritted-teeth style. A cross, a header, it bounced in off the post. Three more inches and we’d’ve all gone home not entirely displeased – even encouraged.
Losing obviously gave more grist to the anti-Robinson mill, and I wouldn’t argue with them. But if it isn’t going to happen, and it won’t be achieved by fan power (such as it is – there weren’t many more than eighty giving him the Hallelujah Chorus at the front of the stand afterwards), then we have to hope the coach and the players can come up with something good. And on the basis of the determination and skill of the last thirty minutes of this match, there may be something there, something that can give us confidence about beating Dundee United, St Johnstone and all the other mug teams. And, believe it or not, Hibernian and Kilmarnock. We simply have to go at them. We know we’ll lose if we don’t. And confidence is what we’re most lacking, so having our teeth kicked like this wasn’t a step in the right direction.
It will be interesting to know what Levein made of it all, and whether he will risk putting out the finishing 11 from the start. Bringing on Juanjo and Simmons at half-time was absolutely central, because their natural positioning forced Hearts to be more creative and positive. Juanjo kept to the left wing, finding himself in plenty of space (which he exploited with good effect) while Simmons prefers an advanced role in midfield where he knits the attack better with midfield. Severin looked slow to think at move in the first half, but put in a storming second half performance and enjoyed himself. Boyack hardly put a foot right throughout the game, but he has got quality, if Hearts can get it out of him. Unfortunately he’ll make a good team better, rather than a poor team good, so he was getting pelters from the crowd – quite rightly, too. He needs to buck up or buck off. The nice word is mercurial, the not-nice word is – well, there are too many of them to list here, and people seem to know them all already. But this team is still adjusting to the loss of Cameron – everyone played around him, so they have to learn new roles and accept greater responsibility – and Boyack especially enjoyed the fluency and pace Cameron brought to the midfield. The first half was a complete dead loss in midfield for all concerned, as the others - Severin, Fulton and Flogel - all stood in a line (usually near half-way), so Boyack was the chief sufferer. When Levein showed his half-time initiative and took off the calamitous Neilson (Flogel moved back) and the static Fulton immediately we saw better players in a better formation. If we could have brought on this new young Greek centre-forward for the injured Kirk rather than Adam, it might have been happy ever after.
There were some individual performances to note: Webster was outstanding – still capable of a 19-year-old’s mistakes, but not making many – and Mahe was the only success story of the first half. He’s a left-back for sure, but loves to get forward and, most important, cut in to shoot as well as get to the bye-line. Flogel was fine – I still think he does more good out on the right than being neat and tidy in the middle, where he simply doesn’t do enough damage. He finds more space for his supreme talent down the wing, even when he plays at ‘right-back’ ‘cause he gets up and down the park so quickly. I’m in a minority on this one, but hey, two thousand lemmings can’t be wrong, right? We shall have to see what happens to McKenna if Giorgio Vakouftsis shows up, because currently Hearts are defensive-deficient – Pressley is still carrying an injury (and his leadership throughout this match was heroic) and the midfield is far more culpable than the back men. If Pressley and McKenna are here for the next few years, you would be wanting them to play as many games together as possible, though without denying Webster the chance to learn at the highest level. But McKenna battled his heart out up front, and was denied a stonewall penalty claim – the sort referees rarely give – when he was flattened when challenging for a cross. Hearts should try and sign as many Americans and Australians as possible – they simply HATE losing.
St Johnstone, Hibernian, Aberdeen. Nine points, third at the end of October. There’s no point in believing it can’t happen.