Hibs supporter Strachan reckons that the Tynecastle men have got it right Jefferies' men have heart to succeed
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27 Jul 1998
Hearts..........1 Coventry......0 GORDON Strachan returned to his home town at the weekend where he made some positive noises about the team he wanted to lose all the time when he was a boy.
Growing up in Craigmillar in Edinburgh, Strachan became a keen Hibs supporter and whenever a managerial vacancy has been mentioned in the past few years, the fans invariably put forward his name.
The former Scottish inter-nationalist returned to the capital with his current charges, Coventry City, to take on Hearts and he was in ebullient mood despite a lacklustre encounter.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the match, apart from the neat finish by Neil McCann which gave Hearts victory, was a vintage off-the-field performance by Strachan lambasting the main stand-side linesman for what he judged to be four bad offside decisions.
After a stern talking to by referee Kenny Clark, everything was fine, and even the Hearts fans cheered Strachan on as the exchanges between the two livened up a typically drab pre-season friendly.
Hearts manager Jim Jefferies and the club's cup final captain, Steve Fulton, naturally believe it is too early to evaluate how their pre-season preparations have gone.
This year, they have won two matches against Bohemians and St.
Pat's in Ireland, narrowly lost to Metz in France, and now have beaten Coventry.
Compare that to last pre-season where they only drew with Blyth Spartans, lost at Grimsby, and won at Berwick.
and had what Jefferies describes as ''a shocker'' of a time.
Certainly the match between the teams was a game of trial and error of managers attempting different things, some erratic play, and some committed tackles.
The Hearts management team will realise that after last season's Scottish Cup victory theirs is a scalp the other Premier League teams will want to take.
With their first match against Rangers next Sunday looming, Strachan indicated he believed that the Tynecastle club was well prepared going into it.
Using a golfing analogy Strachan summed up the state of even the best of teams in pre- season friendlies.
''In golf, when you go back after your winter break you can hit the ball for miles but when you get near the greens you need your touch and that's when you lose your strokes.
''Teams can be a bit like that.
We know the basics of the game but when we get intricate we let ourselves down.'' As for Hearts, Strachan said:''They were excellent, they did very well.
Their build-up has obviously been good because their touch was right and they are in good shape to start a season.'' ''I wouldn't want to start a season next week but they are ready to start a season then.'' Hearts manager Jim Jefferies used the game to try a few different things.
The most notable was playing last year's top scorer Jim Hamilton deep in midfield, and on a few occasions he turned out to be the last man as he checked runs from that area.
The experiment was decided upon because of an injury to Colin Cameron and the need for Hearts to look at what other options are available to them.
It is unlikely Hamilton will start against Rangers in that deep role but Jefferies said the player had done well.
One man who will start will be captain Steve Fulton, one of the most influential players for the cup-winners last season.
This year, however, Fulton realises things will be different.
''Other teams will be thinking that Hearts are one of the top teams and people will be hoping to take us down a peg or two,'' said Fulton.
''Aberdeen maybe were looked on as the third best team in the past, and it is teams like them who will be going out to beat us and trying to challenge the Old Firm.
''There will be other teams to watch like Kilmarnock who had an excellent season last year and have made a good couple of signings as well, so it's certainly going to be interesting.
''Obviously we must win something to match what we did last season and hopefully put in a good league challenge, maybe do well in Europe, and to be honest, all the top teams will be trying to do that.'' Jim Hamilton agreed with Fulton that there was probably more expectation on the team this year because of the cup win.
''Most people expect us to be up there challenging again and hopefully we will but it will be difficult as teams will want to lift their game against us,'' said Hamilton.
What Hearts will take most from the game was the performance of their defence against experienced strikers Dion Dublin and Darren Huckerby.
The best performace came from young Paul Ritchie who never gave Dublin a look-in in the air or on the ground.
Only on a few occasions, most notably near the end when Huckerby hit the bar did Coventry threaten.
By the same token Hearts also looked none too threatening apart from a few attempts by Adam and it took McCann's opportunism to latch onto a pass from Fulton, round the goalkeeper and score from an acute angle to enliven a poor game.
Hearts - Rousset, McManus, (Murray, 45) Weir, Ritchie, Naysmith (McKinnon,70), Flogel (Makel, 80), Locke, Hamilton, Fulton, Adam (Quitongo, 70), McCann.
Coventry - Hedman, Nilsson, Walleme (Williams 45), Breen (Shaw 50), Burrows, Telfer, Boateng, (Boland 80) Clement (Solvedt 64), Hall (Shilton 64), Dublin, Huckerby (Howarth 85).
Referee - K.Clark, Paisley.