What Should We Expect From Heart of Midlothian?
As Paks gear up to face Hearts tonight in the Europa League 3rd qualifying round, Hearts fan Joel Sked takes a closer look at their Scottish opposition.
Heart of Midlothian in Europe
Hearts have an illustrious history in Europe despite never winning a European trophy – playing and beating some of footballs biggest and well-known clubs.
The Edinburgh side’s first sojourn into European competition came in 1958 when they faced off against Belgian side Standard Liege in the first round of the European Cup. Despite a 2-1 second leg home victory they were knocked out 6-3 on aggregate.
Between 1961 and 1966 they would play five ties – including Italian giants Internazionale – in the Fairs Cup with a 3rd round play-off defeat at the hands of Real Zaragoza the furthest they progressed.
Over a decade on and Hearts would create a European memory that is still fondly remembered to this day as they overcame a 2-0 first leg deficit to hammer Lokomotiv Leipzig 5-1 at Tynecastle in the Cup Winners Cup. Hamburg lay in wait in the second round to bring the Gorgie side back down to Earth.
A 2-2 home draw with PSG in 1984 saw John Robertson score the first of seven goals in Europe for Hearts making him Hearts’ record scorer in continental competition. A 4-0 first leg defeat gave the team little chance of progress.
The 1988/1989 season turned out to be the Tynecastle clubs best run in Europe as they overcame St Patricks Athletic, Austria Vienna and Velez Mostar to set up a Uefa Cup quarter-final clash with the mighty Bayern Munich. In front of a partisan crowd of 26000 at Tynecastle Hearts produced the unimaginable and defeated Bayern 1-0 with a famous Ian Ferguson strike. Even though the team could not quite finish the task in Germany, succumbing to a 2-0 loss, the game is still one of the defining moments in the clubs history.
Since then there have been regular trips into Europe including home leg wins over Bologna, Atletico Madrid, Stuttgart and Braga.
Recently Hearts participated in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League in 2006 after finishing second in the league but could not overcome AEK Athens in the 3rd qualifying round having beat Bosnians NK Siroki Brijeg.
The last trip into Europe was under Csaba Laszlo in 2009 where a 4-0 trouncing by Dinamo Zagreb put paid to all the efforts of finishing third the previous season. A Michael Stewart inspired 2-0 home victory recovered a portion of pride.
Heart of Midlothian in Scotland
Since the Scottish Premier League (SPL) began in 1998 Heart of Midlothian have been classed as Scotland’s ‘3rd force’. In the SPL era the capital side were the last team to finish 3rd in consecutive season – 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 – and the only team since 1995 to break the stranglehold of the Old Firm at the top of the league when they finished second in 2005/2006; thanks to investment from owner Vladimir Romanov which saw Takis Fyssas and Edgaras Jankauskas pull on the maroon jersey.
2006 also saw the team lift the Scottish Cup; eight years after their last cup triumph.
The last six years has seen fluctuating league performances from Hearts as a number of off-field issues surrounded the club. But Csaba Laszlo steadied the ship in the 2008/2009 season, guiding the club to a 3rd place finish in his first season and Jim Jefferies has came in and improved the team taking the club to 3rd place once again last season and building a squad with quality and depth that is the best outside the Old Firm.
The Jambos have only played once so far this season, opening with 1-1 draw in what was an impressive performance at champions Rangers.
The club’s last league title was in 1960.
Style of Play
In the first league match of the season on Saturday, away to Rangers, Jefferies lined the side up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The formation was the one used as the team embarked on an eleven game unbeaten run last season which propelled the team into the title race, albeit for a short period.
The focal point of the attack is a traditional target man striker, John Sutton, supported by three attacking midfielders with varying qualities and abilities. David Templeton, an inverted winger, plays on the left and is Hearts most dangerous weapon, especially on the counter-attack. A quick dribbler who looks to cut in field onto his favoured right foot and either have a shot or link up with the target man or central attacking midfielder. This opens space for the left-back, Danny Grainger to bomb forward and support.
The forward three have fluidity as they look to link with the target man with all three, especially the central attacking player, charged with finding space between the opposition defence and midfield.
The forwards are supported by a band of two in the middle of midfield. One to provide energy and another to provide protection to the back four. The duo will most likely be Ian Black (energy) who is also capable of going forward and at times dictating play, but often tries too much leading to possession being squandered, and Adrian Mrowiec (protection) who likes to put himself about.
The defence has been weakened by the departure of left-back Lee Wallace and injury to Andy Webster but there are able deputies in the squad with a strong defence one of the key components to Hearts in recent time, marshalled by captain Marius Zaliukas and number one goalkeeper Marian Kello.
The weakness in the team is the lack of passers or so called ball-players. This leads to possession often needlessly given away while at times, when needed, there is no one to put their foot on the ball and conduct play keeping possession. Which could hamper the side in Europe.
It will mean that when out of possession the players will get behind the ball and suffocate the game, not allowing for the opposition to find space in between the lines or behind the defence. As soon as possession is won back Hearts will look to hit quickly and directly. Whether this is a long ball to the striker, a diagonal ball to the winger or a quick exchange of passes to give the forward three, supporting the striker the necessary space to attack.
Marian Kello is the reigning Hearts player of the year after completing an excellent season where he was undoubtedly the number one goalkeeper. Possessing great agility and reflexes only the best goals are scored past the Slovakian internationalist. Despite a small stature Kello is commanding when coming for crosses and high balls and confidently constructs his back four in front of him. Despite missing a handful of games towards the end of the season due to unexplained issues he is thought as one of the best goalkeepers in the league.
Marius Zaliukas has had a Hearts career with peaks and troughs. Originally brought on loan from Lithuanian side FBK Kaunas and played in an unfamiliar central midfield role he bore the brunt of frustrations from Hearts fans. But over the past three seasons, moved back to centre-back, he has matured into a solid stopper and leader of the team; captaining the team. The Lithuanian internationalist is good in the air and tries to play football which at times leads to costly errors as he attempts to bring the ball out from the back and take the team forward. Indiscipline and rash decisions have also chequered his time in the maroon jersey but the team is weaker without him at the heart of the defence.
David Templeton is the creative force of the team. Only 22-years-old the winger has the ability to play at the highest level with his pace, trickery and goal threat. He shot on the scene last season with a number of outstanding performances including one against Celtic and a Messi-esque goal away to rivals Hibernian where he ran from the half-way line, slaloming past defenders before finding the back of the net. His form dipped towards the end of the season but this season has the promise of even better. When in full flight he is a joy to watch and a nightmare for defenders cutting onto his right foot from his left- midfield position. A crucial weapon when counter-attacking.