The FF Tynecastle Preview
night when, with the prospect of extra-time forcing the clock-watchers
to stay in their seats for a wee while longer, he made an early
getaway. Had he seen enough of the Gers to convince himself his Jambos
will sort us out at the weekend? I’d certainly love to think he was
conned because I expect his lot to find themselves facing a very
Following his team’s shock defeat at Livingston, it is more than likely
the new Hearts boss will be reluctant to attach too much significance
to Mickey Mouse Cup performances. He chose to rest a few of his key
players, just as Big Eck tried to do on Tuesday, only to be forced to
push Barry on, then go through a needless extra half-hour, by a sloppy
performance against Clyde.
There will be no hiding place for anyone on Saturday. Having kicked
off with seven straight wins, Hearts have had a dream start to the
season but the fixture list has been fairly kind to them and they have
been able to build up a head of steam before being seriously tested.
They know everyone is expecting their bubble to burst and the desire to
prove their critics wrong will make Burley’s team very dangerous
Eight points behind, Rangers have no more room for error. The
possibility of the gap stretching to eleven points is not an option and
McLeish must make that clear to his players. The starting line-up he
goes for will have a huge bearing on how the game unfolds.
For what its worth, I’d have Big Marv at the heart of the defence on a
be-first-to-every-ball remit, with Rodriguez and Kyrgiakos in marking
roles. Having serious doubts about Bernard’s defensive qualities, I’d
pull Ian Murray back to the left side of the defence, with Fernando on
the right, and both would be encouraged to get forward when we have the
With Barry picking the ball up from the defenders, and Namouchi and
Buffel in support, we could break out at pace and make sure Dado and
Franny Jeffers get plenty of opportunities to run at the Hearts
defence. And with the likes of Blue Peter, Nacho and maybe even Nieto
on the bench, the front players could be encouraged to run themselves
into the ground for an hour or so before being subbed.
Next week’s trip to the San Siro can’t be allowed to intrude too much
on Big Eck’s thinking. Our erratic start to the SPL programme has left
us playing catch-up and, although we all want to see the Gers do well
in the Champions League, we mustn’t focus on Europe to the detriment of
the domestic programme. Our immediate priority is to eat into Hearts’
lead at the top of the table or, at worst, to make sure they don’t pull
any further away.
The ideal scenario is that we burst out of the starting blocks on
Saturday, let Hearts know what it takes to top the table, quickly kill
them off then, with astute use of our substitutes, take the heat out of
the play and put the game to bed. Then, and only then, can our minds
turn to the San Siro.
Hearts will, of course, be only too aware of our commitments elsewhere
and will try to shake us up, they will ask our players to prioritise,
to think twice about going into a full-blooded tackle at Tynecastle for
fear of missing out on the Inter game. If we go for the soft option,
we’ll get slaughtered and, if I was in the Freckled One’s shoes, I’d
spell it out that any player not 100% focussed at the weekend will be
hooked immediately, then left at home when those fully committed travel
If we’d gone about our business properly in the opening weeks of the
season, we would not have so much ground to make up and Saturday’s
encounter wouldn’t be quite so crucial. We have backed ourselves into
a corner so now we have to come out fighting, re-establish ourselves as
the top team and, if we produce a performance to be proud of at
Tynecastle, we could not ask for a better booster in our build-up to
the game against Inter.
I’ve no doubt we have superior players to Hearts, we have to show we
want it more, give them and the rest of Scottish football something to
think about and send out a message that, regardless of the pressing
demands of European competition, we have more than passing interest in
retaining our SPL crown. Expect the league table to make much more
pleasing reading shortly after lunchtime on Saturday.
LITTLE BOY BLUE