back to grouser
Memory's a daft thing. In one of my previouses, I was sure it was Malkie Robertson who'd put Hearts down in 1977. Turns out nothing of the kind; Walker McColl got the winner and, more to the point, Robertson was playing for Hearts by then and got himself sent off that night. So was I even there? As Alan Hughes famously said, it's all something of a blur. But despite my incipient alcoholism and the memory of a goldfish, I can remember that by the end of last season the Hearts team was full of good players who could play good football. Whether or not they had the ability, the desire, the hunger to apply it in the dangerous world of the Scottish Premier was yet to be proven, and I expressed a doubt or two. Like - who was the better player, Scott Crabbe or Walter Kidd? The man with all the talent, or the man with the streetwise ability to stay there for fifteen years? You choose.
Grouser's End of Season mullings came after a good long look at the months previous - it's easy enough to take one showing and make conclusions only to have them blown away the following week. So normally I keep my powder dry for a little while before, but this game against Livvy was going to be a touchstone, a real test of the team Levein is creating, and if it was - is - any good. So for once I'm taking a chance and blawharding after only one game, though I have to say there were painful resemblances to last weekend's no-show in Belgium. There were hard lessons learned at Livingston today - don't get the Eastern Scottish bus (via "End of The Roll" carpets in Uphall) back for one thing - but it won't be till after I've written this if we find out if Craig Levein thinks he has learned any.
Number one is formation. This might have been down to the availability or otherwise of certain players, but if Levein wants to play 3-5-2, as he tried yesterday, it's bleedin' obvious a) the back three have to be top quality and b) neither McCann nor Neilson is good enough to play as the wide men of the five in midfield. I'm sure we have our own thoughts whether they're good enough as full-backs in a 4-4-2. Next week against Aberdeen - a game which Hearts simply must win - presumably Flogel will be back from suspension, and for all I know Shields or Mahe or Anyone But McCann will be on the left. Has Levein the guts to admit that McCann won't ever be good enough? It would be crueller to keep McCann going.
Number two is up front. What's the point in playing Stephane Adam? He's no hunger for the game. He tried a couple of tricksy things, he got a bit stirred up which got him a yellow card, but he was no help to anyone. Gary Wales looked very, very lost. And without a forward line, the midfield doesn't know what to do. Cameron and Tomaschek thrive when the game opens up, when there's space to run into, when Fulton (and Boyack) can use their superior passing skills. And, repeating myself already, if you have two wide men who can utilise the space. There was plenty of space for Neilson and McCann; but even when they got there, they didn't have the ability to exploit it. After Boyack came on (admittedly at 0-2, when Livvy gave us all the space we needed) he loved the right wing, being there for Fulton (who played really well throughout) and anyone else, and eventually Tomaschek started to get involved, and even look dangerous rather than peripheral. He's a good player, but I'll have a hard time defending him if he keeps running away from the ball. Cameron, too, has a lot of critics, but I can't agree with them at all. If the game is going our way, he's outstanding because he takes a risk in midfield and runs into space where the ball might go. He doesn't look so clever if the ball goes the other way, however, and if Hearts are playing badly he seems to be running up blind alleys. But standing still isn't what he's about - and he never stops trying, which is more than I can say for some. Hearts' goal summed it up: after some decent, simple passing down the right, Tomaschek found himself some central space outside the box, Cameron made a blindside run into it and both pass and shot were perfect. Unfortunately there were 90 seconds left by that time. Levein has to realise, or communicate (preferably with a sword or something lethal) to his players that the game is won and lost at 0-0, and Hearts only seem to play their proper football at 2-0 or 0-2.
But if Levein wants to play three at the back, Severin isn't a quick or good enough defender (if you saw Livvy's second goal on the telly you'll know that) to be one of them and my unhappy opinion is that he's not good enough no matter what position he plays: he might be happier leaving Hearts (his body language is beginning to suggest that) otherwise he's in danger of becoming a 'great servant of the club' and not himself. Webster was mysteriously a substitute - he's good enough, get him in the team! and Pressley didn't look fit, to be honest, but McKenna did nothing to dispel the notion he's Very Good and Should Be Captain. And it's probably too late to worry about whether Niemi played very well or not.
It was a major embarrassment to lose this game, but even the telly analysts said that after 25 minutes Levein must have wondered why we weren't a goal up and how much longer it would be before we were. Then Livvy got their goal (courtesy of er, Neilson and McCann), their confidence surged as they began to believe it was Their Day (and Hearts did b-all to dispel them of that little notion, I'm grieved to say) and from then on their fast (and dare I say it, Continental) forwards always promised to do damage on the break, especially as Hearts didn't have enough quality players on the park to do anything with the ball when we had it. Last May this Bunch Of Rant asked how much Hearts wanted it, how streetwise we were, and was there the killer instinct throughout the side. This game screamed No. Oh sure, we've Kirk and Flogel to come back - instant positional improvement - and the possibility of Boyack and Webster and, deep breath, McSwegan (more striking instinct than the bunch of them put together, though how much he wants it is still open to question) so I'm not slitting my wrists yet. Next week against Aberdeen will tell us so much, but mostly about Levein, what he wants, how much he wants it, and how much he's prepared to do to get what he wants.