Missed opportunity but no need for alarm bells.
One of the best characteristics of social media is its immediacy. It’s also one of its worst. With near-instant access to coverage of events comes the opportunity for instant reaction, a by-product of which is the propensity for over-reaction.
Take a disappointing football result, for example, douse it in a few post-match pints and the potential for alcohol-fuelled snap judgements can be perilous.
It was with this in mind that, come 4.50pm on Saturday, I decided to put my phone away and enjoy my work night out, in the hope that I would wake up the next morning without Twitter regret and with a more sober, rational outlook on what I witnessed the previous afternoon. Whether or not that approach worked depends on how much of the following you agree with.
First thing’s first, there’s no escaping the fact that we were incredibly poor at the weekend, with too many key players having off-days at the same time. Steven Naismith and Peter Haring, guys who usually exert dominance and plant their feet on opponents’ necks, barely got their pinkie toes on their opposite numbers, while our more creative players struggled to get going, which in Demi Mitchell’s case was exacerbated by the bizarre decision to station him on the right wing. Whenever we did reach the final third, our decision-making wasn’t nearly as sharp as it has been and too often we chose the wrong option.
What was also apparent, speaking of the final third, was just how much we missed Uche. Prior to kick-off, I spoke to a couple of friends and although we shared slight trepidation about how we would cope in his absence, it was tempered by the prospect of seeing what Craig Wighton could bring to the table, particularly after hearing rave reviews about his performances in the reserves.
Unfortunately, it was simply the wrong type of game for Wighton to be thrown into; Uche, by contrast, would have been tailor-made for it. While he may not offer a particularly potent goal-scoring threat, his physical presence, coupled with the unselfish dirty work he does for the benefit of his team-mates cannot be overstated. The more a game descends into the kind of chaotic battle we witnessed on Saturday, the more he thrives on it — Wighton isn’t cut from that cloth. That said, as we’ve already established, he was by no means the only one who struggled to impose himself.
Much of the credit for that should, of course, go to Livingston. Few would have given them a chance prior to kick-off, but as their league position demonstrates, Gary Holt’s side have revelled in the underdog role thus far. Hearts can scrap with the best of them when a game calls for it, but in Livingston’s case, scrapping is the very essence of their playing style. It may not be the most aesthetically pleasing — quite frankly they’re a horrible team to watch — but as we discovered on Saturday, it’s incredibly effective.
In executing their game plan so successfully, Livingston have produced a blueprint for other teams to follow when they visit Tynecastle which offers plenty food for thought in terms of our approach to similar encounters in future.
Uche is clearly an essential cog in how Craig Levein wants the whole machine to operate, but he serves a particular purpose that few others in the squad seem capable of fulfilling, therefore it’s important that we have the capacity to adapt our style, either in his absence or when he’s having an off-day himself.
A goalless draw against a newly-promoted side might seem like a bad result in isolation, but in the wider context of our start to the season, it really shouldn’t be any cause for alarm. In fact, when you consider that we’ve emerged from our poorest performance of the season so far with a clean sheet, our unbeaten run still intact and (thanks to Stuart Findlay’s 93rd minute header at Rugby Park on Sunday) our five point lead at the top of the table fully preserved, it’s a bit easier to swallow.
With that in mind, the booing at full-time seems a little excessive in hindsight. After all, if you had offered those individuals 16 points from our opening six games before the season started, I’m certain every one of them would have bitten your hand off.
Nevertheless, supporters are entitled to express their feelings; in some respects, it’s testament to the players that their earlier performances have raised expectations so much.
Having set such a high standard, the reaction at full-time should offer a timely warning against further complacency before Motherwell come to town on cup duty tonight.
A win (and the semi-final place that comes with that) should inspire an entirely different response from the stands.