Talks at Hearts to deal with a recurring issue before Celtic visit Tynecastle

Prior to their encounter with Celtic on Sunday, Hearts players have had discussions about their underwhelming first-half performances. After constantly having to step up their game in the second half, the Riccarton team realized they needed to start games with greater authority and at a faster pace.

Hearts has lost the first goal in 14 of its 37 competitive games this season. In a lot of instances, they had a difficult first half before becoming better at the break. Although a 12-game winning streak has somewhat covered up the problem, players believe it needs to be addressed.

Emiliano Marcondes’ goal put Hearts behind Hibs on Wednesday night, but Lawrence Shankland’s penalty brought the Edinburgh derby to a 1-1 draw. Players have gathered to talk about how they can start games stronger, according to Hearts midfielder Cammy Devlin, who spoke to the Edinburgh News ahead of Celtic’s visit to Tynecastle Park this weekend.

“I don’t think we were at our best on Wednesday but we will watch it back and look at what we can do better. It’s important on Sunday that we come out of the blocks well,” stressed Devlin. “That’s something that, even on this recent run, we haven’t done as well as we can. We have spoken about it and it’s something we want to do.

“With the home fans behind us, they like when you press and go and win a tackle. That’s when they can really get going so that’s important. Celtic are obviously such a good team so you can’t be silly and press out when it’s not on. At the same time, it’s our home game. We want to take the game to them a bit and get after them. That’s something we will look at.

“We will execute the gameplan to the best of our abilities, as provided by the coaches. We can definitely work on going out of the blocks, in my opinion. It makes the second half a little bit simpler if we do that and score goals in the first half of games toward the conclusion of the season.”

Celtic scored inside four minutes on their previous trip to Gorgie last October and sat 2-0 ahead at half-time. They ran out comfortable 4-1 winners in that match and Hearts are eager to avoid a repeat. “Celtic are obviously a good team with top players who had a good result on Wednesday [beating Dundee 7-1],” acknowledged Devlin.

“If you give good players chances, they will take them. We have to be compact and disciplined defending but, at the same time, we want to get chances and finish them. When we are at home, we go into every game with that little boost.”

Devlin returned to Hearts’ starting line-up for the first time since 1 November after recovering from an ankle injury. He is anticipating a strong end to the season as the Edinburgh club aim to secure third place in the Premiership and progress in the Scottish Cup.

“The ending to the season can be really exciting if we get a good run in the Scottish Cup and finish third. It would be great to be a part of that,” said the Australian internationalist. “The changing room is class and I love going in to work every day. Everything is more positive when you are winning so I just want to help this club get where in needs to be in third and in the European positions – and go as far as possible in the Scottish Cup.”

Head coach Steven Naismith entrusted Devlin to add energy and tenacity to the Hearts midfield for the derby. “I think it’s a compliment because it was such a big game. You can’t lose them,” opined Devlin. “Naisy is such a competitor. I felt really good in training and felt strong so I was stoked when I saw my name in the starting line-up. Getting that trust from Naisy is massive for me.

READ MORE:¬†Hearts’ elephant in the room needing addressed

“It’s been a long time since I started a match and being injured is very frustrating. There’s no point feeling sorry for yourself, you need to get in the gym and work hard which I have done. When you come back to a team that has won so many games in a row, you can’t expect to go right in from the start. That’s not the type of person I am. You need to earn everything, especially at Hearts.

“I’ve just put my head down at training, working as hard as possible. I didn’t know I would start on Wednesday but I knew I’d be ready if I got the chance. You don’t need much to be up for for a derby at home. They are the ones you love. Before I came here, they are the ones I’d watch back home on Youtube and see the fans. I was so happy to be back out there.”

He admitted that a sliding tackle on compatriot Lewis Miller on the hour mark left him wondering momentarily if referee Kevin Clancy might produce a red card. As it was, Clancy deemed a yellow sufficient. “He [Miller] was quite far away from me but his touch wasn’t so good so I thought: ‘I can nick that.’ I slid in in a way that I don’t usually do but I was fortunate enough that I won the ball,” explained Devlin. “That’s the sort of thing I do. If I see someone take a sloppy touch, I want to be the first one to go and win it back for the team. But, yeah, my heart was in my mouth.”

Hearts coaches Frankie McAvoy and Gordon Forrest have worked alongside Naismith to refine Devlin’s game and transform him into a box-to-box midfielder this season. The player is enjoying the change and covets further improvement.

“Since Naisy has come in, he has really taken to me and he sees so much potential in me. He sees areas I can improve on. There’s no question I can improve in so many different ways. We have watched plenty video about pushing forward a bit more and trying to effect the final third, as well as keeping my attributes to win the ball back.

“I’m really enjoying it. Naisy, Frankie and Gordy have been really good for me. They give me tough love at times when I need it, but that’s how you become a better footballer. If you have people taking time to improve you as a player, it means they rate you and like you. I really appreciate it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *