St Johnstone 16th October 1999

Back to Chief Grouser

I’ll try no’ tae repeat masel’, like, but this is what I had in mind when suggesting we get our 4 million to blow silly little teams like St Johnstone out of the water, rather than worrying about Celtic and Rangers. Player-for-player we’re better than StJ – better than all The Rest, I’d say – but if those players can’t show the right attitude (ie, Kill Them, Kill Them Off) then we’ll continue to flap and flounder around in the mire of the belly of the Premier League. After this game St Johnstone feel they can beat us.

No one in this Hearts side is indispensable. Okay, maybe Cameron. But not Naysmith or Flogel, who are incapable of doing damage to the opposition inside their penalty box. Not Jackson, who needs everyone else to be playing properly before he really makes a difference. Not even the wonderful Severin, who’s got a bit to learn. And certainly not Kevin James, who can pack his bags now. Sorry, Big Man, but – well, you know.

No Hearts were poor on two counts: one – we don’t have enough deadly players. There’s no cutting edge up front. Neither McSwegan or Wales really worried the StJ defence, caused bother, havoc, mayhem. And neither has a physical presence which might rough things up a bit.

But that doesn’t necessarily matter if you can get the second problem sorted: Hearts have to mentally learn to play their football on the break, even – especially – when they’re playing at home. Three weeks ago the first two goals were scored when the ball broke free on the edge of the Hearts penalty area. Three passes later, it was in the back of the Dundee net. This is how football happens now: there’s rarely enough room to play proper football. It’s a race to find the space, and if you can catch the other team upfield, you’ve got a chance. This is one reason why teams tend to play better (and score more goals) away from home.

So when Hearts got the lead in the seventh minute, there was no need for them to go and chase the game. The crowd were partly to blame for this, urging them up the park, but StJ are no mugs, and all they did for the rest of the half was regroup, keep their shape, make it difficult for Hearts and hope to poach an equaliser. As it goes, they nearly managed it when the long-haired foreign bloke got ahead of everyone at a corner and flashed a header just over. But Hearts really shouldn’t have looked so worried. We were winning, and should have played as though we knew it. Let them come to us, come at us: we get the ball, move it bloody pronto up the park, slam it in, 2-0. Thank You.

It’s a difficult balance, to take that step back without losing the initiative, but all Hearts did was huff and puff to no real effect. They showed a lack of maturity and confidence in themselves. Passes went astray through panic or overambition, and it was the latter (by Cameron) which gave the ball to Lowndes who smacked in a beauty. Even with twenty minutes left Hearts couldn’t pick themselves up, and Rousset was always the more worried-looking ‘keeper for the rest of the game, though at the very end Juanjo managed to stay on his feet for once and his deep cross was met by Naysmith’s not-so-dangerous header, which didn’t pose the goalie many problems. It would have been very wonderful if he’d scored, but Grouser would have returned to the pub feeling that Hearts still weren’t very good.