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Wages failure could cost Hearts dearly

Paulo Sergio insists that the lack of wages being paid to his first team will not affect their efforts in today's game against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle.

By Stuart BAthgate
Published on Saturday 29 October 2011 02:25

HOW well could you work for a boss who failed to pay your wages? For most of us, thankfully, the question is academic, but for those Hearts players who take the field against Kilmarnock today it is all too real.

Last night the senior members of the Tynecastle club’s squad were still waiting for their salaries, which were due a week past Monday. Hearts officials have asked them to be patient, but even assurances that they will get their money soon will hardly be enough to get them into the right frame of mind as they prepare for this afternoon’s league match.

To an extent, the good habits acquired over the course of a career will ensure that Hearts remain competitive. You get the impression that, even if it were only a kick-about in the park, Adrian Mrowiec would still be snapping at your ankles, and Ryan Stevenson would be straining every muscle to help his team end up on top.

But while there is little question that the players as individuals will give of their best, there has to be a doubt about the collective morale of the team. Kilmarnock manager Kenny Shiels suggested yesterday that his opponents would have a siege mentality and be motivated by “high negative energy”, but former Hearts player Gary Mackay thinks that this situation differs from others which could encourage players to display strength in adversity.

“I often think that when things are happening off the pitch, the best place for footballers is on the pitch,” Mackay said. “If they play as well as they did last week against Rangers – even though they lost – Hearts will have a chance.

“You hope they are able to put the salaries issue to one side and play at their best, but I can understand if that doesn’t happen. The money’s 12 days late now.

“It’s not a situation I was ever involved in. If you talk about adversity, there was the time Hearts had four players sent off in the one game at Ibrox, and the squad were galvanised for the Celtic game the following Wednesday. But that was a different situation.”

In the case of that game against Rangers, the Hearts players were aggrieved by the match officials. Similarly, in the case of a club having points docked by the governing body – another situation that has seen players respond positively to adversity – they can also focus on an external enemy: the authorities who punished them. But in Hearts’ current predicament, there is no-one other than club owner Vladimir Romanov and his associates that the players can blame for the non-payment of their salaries.

Their best hope of acquitting themselves well therefore appears to be to park the salaries issue well away from the match. To ignore its demoralising effect, refrain from trying to tap into its “high negative energy”, and instead simply attempt to approach the match as a contest in its own right: 11 men against 11 men, as the cliche has it.

For Paulo Sergio, this may be the most demandng situation he has found himself in since taking over as Hearts manager just after the start of the season, perhaps rivalled only by the 5-0 home defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League. Coincidentally, the next game after that humiliation was also against Kilmarnock, at Rugby Park this time, when Hearts fought out a confidence-restoring goalless draw before going down to White Hart Lane four days later and claiming the same result.

The Portuguese manager’s tactical savoir faire had a lot to do with the first result, while his willingness to select a young side eager to fight for their places played a large role in the second. However, with today’s motivational task being more about morale than team selection or tactics, Mackay thinks first-team coach Gary Locke could have a bigger part than Sergio to play in making sure Hearts play with their usual spirit.

“One saving grace of the situation is that Gary Locke is there to keep them all up for it and try to get them buzzing,” Mackay said. “I know he will do the best he can, but it must be difficult for the players.”

Hearts have observed a media blackout this week, and plan to maintain it at least until an SFA hearing next week into comments made by Sergio about referee Iain Brines. They have therefore communicated nothing in the way of squad news, but Sergio’s team is expected to be close to the one that started against Rangers on Sunday, with Mrowiec, Eggert Jonsson and Ian Black in central midfield and Stevenson as the lone striker.

Kilmarnock, meanwhile, are set to continue with Anssi Jaakkola in goal in place of Cammy Bell, who is still recovering from an elbow problem. Jaakkola let in three goals in his first outing, the 3-3 draw with Celtic, but has since kept two clean sheets.

The first was in the league against Motherwell, the second in the midweek League Cup quarter-final win over East Fife, and the Finn admitted that in the former match he had been a touch fortunate to pull off a fine double save. “It’s not too often you can make a double save like that, so I’m happy about that,” Jaakkola said. “In the end I think I was quite lucky with the save.”

Shiels has yet to win away from home in the SPL since replacing Mixu Paatelainen as manager last season, but is confident that his team are in a positive frame of mind after booking a trip to Hampden in late January for the semi-finals of the League Cup. “We are feeling good about the progress we have made,” he said. “We are one point off the top six and we are in the semi-finals of the League Cup.

“To do that with a team that’s just been put together, it’s a remarkable place to be. I’m happy with the way things are progressing.”

No matter how well they are able to play today, that is not a statement the Hearts players could echo.

Taken from the Scotsman

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