If like me, you don't recognise the legal existence of Glasgow but regard it instead as a fantasy land full of weird and not-so-wonderful people, many of whom seem to be attached by bits of string to dogs of various sorts (or indeed the other way round) then games against Celtic and Rangers seem fairly inconsequential. It's absolutely superb when we beat them but it's not that important when we don't.
However, I live well away from the Main Event so I don't have to put up with all the media hoop-la that infects the body of Scottish football and is spread throughout by the Daily Record, the most virulent carrier of disease since Typhoid Mary a hundred years ago. So I can understand Hearts fans getting worked up about losing to Celtic, particularly as so many of the scum were in front of us in the enclosure enjoying themselves in a way you'd think they'd've forgotten, so long is it since we lost to them (and we were cheated that day, mind.) But as I said to one of them afterwards, it was their turn to win, so we shouldn't grumble too loudly.
But in the main we have to rely on Celtic and (less likely) Rangers to be below par to get a result: just as Hearts play to their potential and crappy wee clubs like Aberdeen, Hibs and the rest won't take points off us. So if you're angry when Hearts fail to use their superior talents and players to beat St Johnstone, then you've no right to feel miffed if Celtic use their superior talent to beat us. And Celtic had five players who are better than anything we've got - Petrov, Petta, Larssen, Moravcik (occasionally) are four. The fifth, Sutton, is better than anything we've got, but that doesn't say very much because some thing is better than no thing, and that's what we've got. Sutton follows in the long line of middling English centre-forwards who are still ahead of anything we can produce - Rideout, Drinkell, Falco - for whom live in the Premier is a haven of rescue. For what it's worth, I think Sutton's an outstanding player but only with a team and a striking partner to suit his style. I can't see Celtic's tricksy midfield triangles getting the very best out of him, but there will be plenty of goals to be had in spite of that, particularly when defences are as nice to him as Hearts' was.
There is something rotten in the state of HMFC at the minute, and it's got nothing to do with the boardroom. That's a separate issue. The lack of summer signings is surely put into perspective by the acquisition of four internationalists bought during last season. Okay, the jury's out on Simpson and Petric (or more than likely they've locked themselves in and are refusing to come out) and I'm getting a little desperate trying to defend Tomaschek when his first touch is about as good as Petric's. I'm sure he'd be better if Hearts played a more expansive game, but all the play was crammed in the middle of the park where his ungainliness was shown up. He's not afraid of a scrap, though, but that's not Hearts' game.
I happen to believe that we have good enough players to finish third. But there is something about the body language of the whole team that is so concerning. The players lack leadership on and off the park. There's no motivation, they don't have a spring in their step and they aren't whistling a happy tune. And that's why teams like Kilmarnock, lesser teams, can beat us. We don't play to our potential, and Kilmarnock do. In Hibs' case, they're playing above their potential, which often presages a juddering halt - let's hope so, anyway - and as soon they went top of the League, the cry went up: "Chic Charnley for Scotland!" Sad to relate, they won't be relegated this time round. Whether they'll finish third - well, everyone's about as crap as each other, so they've a chance. But so have Hearts. All we have to do is sort a couple of minor wee details out first…
What was wrong against Celtic wasn't particularly the attitude - though that certainly contributed. The opening was reasonably hard-fought and twice Hearts could have taken the lead but for top-drawer saves by Gould. But Celtic had the run of the game - the first half, which was the game - because Hearts had no threat up front, no point of focus for the rest. In short, we lacked a centre-forward, someone to lead the line. Something like what Stephane Adam used to be. The lack of serious movement up front allowed Celtic to push up and forced Hearts back. Hardly ever did Naysmith or Flogel get forward, and too often the midfield was on the back foot, especially when in possession of the ball, which is ridiculous. We lost the ball so often because there wasn't an option to do anything with it. There was no fluidity until far too late, when Banjo and Kris O'Neill had come on and did as well as Celtic could be bothered to let them. But it was encouraging at least, and the spirit shown in the second half raised half a hope. But if we don't have that centre forward option, then there is no width. Perhaps Banjo on from the start would be an idea - at least give the opposition something to worry about. Again, I'm more concerned about games against teams we are superior to, but it's about time Jefferies said let us set the agenda, let the opposition worry about us. But we seem to lack this confidence in ourselves and the opposition sense this straight away. Hearts behave like victims yet still complain when they're mugged.
I don't think the defence is bad, nor the midfield. But without any attackers they are made to look a lot worse, and Celtic's goals were a triumph of movement over loitering. Hearts hardly ever moved the ball into the danger zone around Celtic's box until far too late into the game. Pressley seems to have lost his steely invincibility, Cameron doesn't know what to do with himself and - well, I have to look at the manager when I see players resembling bits of driftwood, waiting for the game to take them somewhere rather than doing something original and bold. Hearts beat Celtic in April by smashing into them, not giving them any peace, keeping it as fast as possible. It was risky and spectacular and it paid off. Attacking Celtic should be easy, 'cause we know we can't defend against them. But it's against the lesser lights that Hearts need to be taking risks and attacking, in the games against Dundee next week and Dunfermline the week after. We haven't dominated a game against Hibernian in a long time and look nervous against them. I'd rather lose to any team by giving it a go, 'cause you're more likely to win than lose. If you don't have a pop at it, you increase your chances of losing. Hearts stand still against Hibs in the strange belief that this somehow makes a draw more likely. This attitude problem is going to cost us dearer than any boardroom squabbles. And it's far more urgent, because we've got a game next Sunday.
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