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Strikers step up to sink sorry Partick

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Strikers step up to sink sorry Partick

As Aberdeen’s fall from grace continued with an abject defeat to Celtic, a fine away victory over Partick Thistle allowed Hearts to leapfrog them into second place, with yet another clean sheet and a glut of goals adding considerable weight to our goal difference, which is now bettered only by the league leaders.

Having been unable to make the game in person, I had to make do with the mind-numbing tones of BBC Sportsound’s “Open All Mics”, with Chick Young providing the updates as I shuttled about Edinburgh on various errands. Unfortunately, an objective, insightful analysis of the game was clearly too much to expect from a low calibre journalist like Young, who clearly harbours such ill-feeling towards Hearts that he deemed it more important to repeatedly whinge about a Sam Nicholson “dive” than to report on our opening goal. The fact that he is considered one of the country’s leading football journalists is nothing short of embarrassing and must be a slap in the face to more talented — yet less-privileged — members of the profession.

On that basis, I have had to rely predominantly on Kickback and various match reports to provide me with a more comprehensive breakdown of events at Firhill and what I have garnered from those sources has been generally positive.

Defensive solidity is now coming more naturally to Hearts, while at the other end both strikers are starting to find the net on a consistent basis. However, despite seeing Osman Sow and Juanma notch a brace each, Robbie Neilson was reluctant to heap too much praise on his strike partnership.

“The strikers did score two each, which is pleasing, but I didn’t think they played very well if I’m honest. They should be better than what they showed today. In terms of finishing, terrific, but in terms of their other roles in the team, like hold-up play and linking with the midfield, they didn’t do enough. Osman and Juanma could and should be the top scorers in Scotland, they’re more than capable of that. They just need to produce more consistently.”

This may seem over-critical from Neilson and could simply be his way of getting that little bit extra out of his players, but from a Hearts supporter’s perspective (having seen some absolute dross up front for us in the past decade or so) I’m just happy to see our strikers scoring goals. One of the more positive aspects of this Hearts team in the past year or so has been the spread of goals across different positions in the team.

However, to use the standard cliché, goals are a striker’s bread and butter (regardless of how many come from the penalty spot) and will not only be the main measure of their effectiveness as far as the fans are concerned, but also a catalyst for even more confident performances in the weeks ahead. As long as Juanma and Sow keep scoring, therefore, you will find few complaints coming from the stands.

In terms of the performance of his team in general, Neilson gave an equally-measured assessment:

“I’m happy with the result, and aspects of the performances. We were really poor in the first half and fortunate to go in ahead in my opinion. We had that bit of quality to get the lead but I told them at half time it wasn’t good enough. Partick had created more chances and were passing the ball better. I had a right go at them at half time and that got the fired up, and they were much better, so overall I’m pleased.”

Going by the general reaction on Kickback, Robbie’s post-match analysis and the comments made by Craig Levein via Twitter last night, it sounds as though the team is still not firing on all cylinders, which oddly enough is one of the most pleasing aspects about yesterday’s result. Not only were a handful of key players missing (Pallardo, Walker, Augustyn), it sounds as though a few others have been playing through the pain barrier in recent weeks and are still lacking full match sharpness, Prince Buaben chief among them.

Despite all that, we’ve recorded a fourth clean sheet in five games and found the net four times away to a team going through its own decent run of form, while also having the breathing space to give another youngster — 18-year old Canadian Dario Zanatta — valuable game time that he would not have got in a tighter affair. Even the most pessimistic of Hearts supporters would find negativity hard to come by in those circumstances.

By contrast, now that we’re in second place there are undoubtedly going to be those who get carried away and start dreaming again about challenging Celtic. Second is obviously a magnificent position to be in at this stage, considering how erratic our early-season form was, but it is still very early to be talking about finishing in the top three. Neilson in particular must be struggling to find different ways to say that top six will remain the principal target until it’s achieved.

Aberdeen in particular have shown how quickly it can all go wrong and already this season it has become clear that most teams in the league are capable of beating each other. We have every reason to be positive about our chances, especially if Hearts continue to improve at the same rate as in recent weeks, but that positivity should also be tempered with realism, otherwise you get the same overblown reactions when things do go awry, from the same people who made bold predictions during the good times.

Originally published at maroonspecs.wordpress.com on November 2, 2015.

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