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Sergio beginning to warm Hearts

graeme macpherson at tynecastle

19 Sep 2011


SLOWLY but surely the Paulo Sergio blueprint is starting to take effect.

The Portuguese was always going to be up against it in his bid to appease those Hearts fans disgruntled at the sacking of Jim Jefferies last month, but gradually the new manager appears to be winning round even the most joyless of Jambos.

This hard-fought win over St Mirren extended Hearts' recent good form to five games, a period in which they have conceded just one goal. Even missing their first-choice goalkeeper, and with Andy Webster absent due to a curious niggle sustained just before kick-off, there is a solidity to their defence.

The rising tally of clean sheets shows the back four can defend, but they are proving themselves to be useful attacking weapons, too. Danny Grainger and Jamie Hamill, both signed in the summer, have been shrewd additions.

Grainger can deliver a mean dead ball, his inswinging corners, hit with such verve and venom, almost impossible to defend. Hamill is also no slouch when it comes to striking a ball and he was at it again here, converting a 43rd-minute penalty with such a rattle that it threatened to take the St Mirren net right off.

To complete the pats on the back for the Hearts defenders, it was another of their number – Marius Zaliukas – who won the award in the first place, drawing Ilias Haddad into a needless foul.

In attack, Sergio is still tinkering. He handed Mehdi Taouil a first start since the first game of the season, and deployed Ryan Stevenson again as a withdrawn second striker behind Stephen Elliott.

With neither Ian Black nor David Obua offering genuine width from midfield, Hearts were laborious in their bids to get the ball forward, and it took the intervention of St Mirren's Lee Mair – who put another pinpoint Grainger cross through his own net – for them to notch a second goal.

With passes misplaced and shots off target, there were regular groans from the crowd during a frustrating first period, but Sergio was happy for the fans to display their frustration. "When the crowd showed their impatience, they had reason to do that," said the Hearts manager. "In the first half we were giving some balls to our opponents in our midfield. We often made short passes and lost the ball. When the crowd reacts negatively about that, they have reason."

Taouil, whose career as a Hearts player following his summer move from Rugby Park has been interrupted by a groin injury, believes his new manager's message is starting to get through.

"I think we are developing week by week," said the Moroccan. "We are beginning to understand more what the manager wants from us. He's a bit different as he's from Portugal, but the way of football there is very good. In training everyone is focused and we showed in the matches that it's working."

Hearts travel to play Ayr United on Wednesday night in the Scottish Communities League Cup, and Taouil is expecting a frosty reception from the home support, given his status as a former Kilmarnock player.

"I played in a cup match against them and scored, so I'm sure that I'll get a nice reception when I go there," he added. "We want to go there and win as it's an important game for us. We will show them respect and try very hard to get into the next round."

While Hearts sauntered off to celebrate their victory, for Danny Lennon and his St Mirren players there was instead another evening of contemplation. Early season promise has fizzled out in recent weeks and this was a largely toothless display bereft of invention or pizzazz.

A third match without a goal caused them to slip back to ninth place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table but midfielder Jim Goodwin sees little reason to panic.

"It was a very tough day at the office and I don't think we played to the level we are capable of," he said. "But we don't feel like any of the momentum is slipping away. When we played the likes of Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Motherwell we passed the ball about well, and while I don't think we are back to that level yet, we know we can still do it."

Taken from the Herald

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