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Terk

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Everything posted by Terk

  1. Howdy. Just bought FM18 so figured I'd stick my head round the door and say hello. Nice to see the old place still going.
  2. Belgium and Wales? That's Scotland's chances screwed then. As ever Mark, I'll be following along.
  3. Sorry to hear that, mate. It's that much more shocking when something so seemingly trivial and second nature is taken away and becomes a struggle. Hope he makes a good recovery.
  4. It's called sabotage. Give me the starts and I'll give you the goals.
  5. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “Christ, get that sh*te off my telly.” Amy had walked into the room as I was watching Liverpool in their Europa League campaign. Things hadn’t gone as well as I’d hoped when I moved to Anfield as a player but I still retained an affection for both the club and the city. However, being from an Evertonian family, Amy had taken enough grief about dating a Liverpool player – she certainly had no desire to sit and watch their games. I blew her a kiss and turned my attention back to the game, the second in the group stage. Having won their opening match on the road they were back in front of a packed Anfield and hoping to give themselves another boost towards the knockout stages. It was interesting to watch a side who were perfectly capable of making the most of their chances and from eight shots on target in the game, Jurgen Klopp’s side scored four goals, a brace from Divock Origi added to by efforts from Marko Grujic and Lazar Markovic. OK, so my players weren’t on the same level of talent as those guys, but neither were Morton a side like Vitória de Guimarães – hitting the target and troubling the goalkeeper shouldn’t be the Herculean task we made it out to be. The game was just about over when my phone rang with a number I didn’t recognise. It was nearly ten at night and I’d been thinking about turning in for the night when the ref blew for full time but I answered anyway, trying to sound polite. “Hi Patrick. It’s Rémi Garde.” My attempts to keep the bewilderment out of my voice almost certainly failed. Why on Earth was the Aston Villa manager calling me? “Sorry to call so late but I had a busy day. I wanted to talk about Callum Robinson.” OK, so it made a bit more sense now. “Sure, he’s doing well. Good lad.” “Yes, but when you asked to take him on loan you told us he would be playing as a striker. My scouts have been watching the videos you’ve sent and he’s on the left all the time. We have no interest in him learning to be a winger.” That explained the edge in his tone as well. There was silence on the line for a few moments while I tried to think of how to respond. “Patrick, are you still there.” “Yes, yes, I’m here. I understand you’re not happy, but he wouldn’t be starting games if we only played him as a striker. We have Kwesi Appiah who is playing that role and doing well. We felt it would be more important that Callum got time on the pitch than sat on the bench waiting for a chance as a striker.” “Indeed, but if you had been honest about his chances as a striker we would have sent him to a different team. One where he would be the first choice.” “I’m sorry you feel that way but I have to do what is best for my team. Callum’s a good player and we’re happy to have him. He’ll get some games through the middle and some out wide. If you’re not happy with that perhaps we should terminate the deal.” Call his bluff, that’ll work. “No, we are not at that stage yet. I just felt we had to put on record that we’re not happy with him playing on the left. I know you have to do best for your team but I have to look out for mine too.” “Agreed, but we’re not going to stop playing him there.” “OK, we’ll talk again soon.” I had no doubt about that, the moaning b*stard. *** When I got to the training ground the following morning, I walked into my office to be greeted by a scout report which might make Callum’s chances of getting game time as a striker even less. There was a note on top from George Adams saying that he’d be round later to chat about it and I only had time to flick through the cover page before he was knocking on my door. “So who’s this lad, Marvin Ducksch?” “German striker, in Dortmund’s second team. George Rooney has been out watching him and reckons he could do a good job for us. In the Premiership too.” That was music to my ears. “He’s scored 26 in 33 games over the last two seasons, even been called up to the main Dortmund squad and played seven times for them.” That was seriously impressive but the big question remained. How much was he going to cost? “George has had a brief word with his agent, reckons he’d be available for around half a million. He’s reasonably quick, good in the air, clearly gets goals. I think this is the guy we’ve been looking for.” “I want to be sure. Nailed on f*cking certain. And we’ve got time before January. Can you fly out and watch him a few times?” George nodded before heading for the door. “And get me some video of him.” Another nod of the head and with that he was gone, leaving me with the thick report that George Rooney had prepared. It was a thorough report and a quick glance suggested it was overwhelmingly positive but I pushed it to one side to read later and pushed myself out of my chair and towards the door, ready to go and put the players through their paces for the day.
  6. Terk

    A hometown hero

    I flicked on the TV just in time as the draw was just about to get underway. After our victory over Hamilton, I’d set my sights on a potential trip to Hampden so my only requirement for the draw was clear. Not Celtic. “So now I’d like to ask Billy Dodds to draw the first home team for the quarter finals.” Billy dipped his hand into the bowl, gave them a swirl around and pulled one out. After fumbling with it to pull out the piece of paper he held it up to the camera. “Celtic. A home draw for Ronny Deila’s side. And they will play…” Gordon Strachan delved into the bowl to consign one of the remaining seven teams to defeat. “St Johnstone.” Thank f*ck. The next tie out saw Rangers given a trip north to face Ross County, another away journey I was pleased we wouldn’t have to face. That left Dundee, Motherwell and Raith Rovers. Raith at Tynecastle would be too good to be true. “And the third tie of the round will be…” A quick mix of the balls for Billy and out came “Dundee, struggling a bit this season and hoping for a good run for a bit of momentum. And they’ll be playing…” Gordon unrolled the piece of paper he’d picked out and held it up. “Hearts, flying high in the Championship. A potential cracker of a tie.” It wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for but better than it could have been. At least it wasn’t that long an away trip and Dundee were a much worse team than Hamilton, sitting bottom of the Premiership and looking for all the world like they'd be in the Championship next season. It gave us a definite chance of edging our way into the last four. “And that concludes the draw for the quarter finals of the Scottish League Cup, the ties will be played on Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th October.” The focus was quickly back on our league campaign though and the visit of Morton to Tynecastle. We’d have to put together a squad for the day without Igor Rossi, who had strained a stomach muscle during a gym session and would have to sit out up to a month of action. With Murray Wallace needing a rest after his exertions in the early weeks of the season it meant a rare start for Danny Seabourne, partnering Mason Holgate at centre back. The rest of the defence was our strongest options, with the first choice midfield trio of Stewart, Murphy and Towell reunited as well. However, my ever rotating front three landed on Santi Jara, Billy King and Kwesi Appiah as I continued to look for a combination which set things on fire. After a poor start which had seen Morton lose their first four games of the campaign, Jim Duffy’s side had bounced back in recent weeks with consecutive wins over Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline and Queen of the South to boost them up the table. That still kept them ten points behind us though and we had to be strong favourites for a comfortable victory. The opening ten minutes showed just why as we managed seven shots on goal, though only one of them, a clipped effort from Cameron Borthwick-Jackson from just outside the penalty area, forced Derek Gaston into a save. After that initially flurry of domination, things calmed down over the next quarter of an hour and we didn’t trouble Gaston again until we took the lead. The goal came in the 27th minute and was a perfect example of the virtue of patience. With Morton sitting deep we were struggling to find a way around them and the crowd were getting restless, as is so often the case at Tynecastle. Shouts encouraging the players to get the ball wide were clearly audible in a generally silent atmosphere, but after keeping the ball just outside their box for what seemed like an age, finally Richie Towell spotted the opening and slipped a perfectly weighted pass into the path of Billy King’s run. The winger didn’t even need to take a touch, instead just curling a first time effort in off the inside of the post, giving Gaston absolutely no chance of keeping it out. We should have had more by half time as both Appiah and Seabourne headed wide of the target when unmarked from corners, while King and Santi Jara both drew good saves from Gaston as we tried to make the scoreline reflect the domination we’d had on the game. I was never worried that we’d be punished for our profligacy though, as Morton hadn’t even mustered a shot off target and seven minutes into the second half we finally doubled our advantage when Jara cut a pass back to the edge of the penalty area and Luke Murphy drilled a powerful shot into the top corner of the net. The remaining time in the game saw us pepper the stands with yet more off target shots as we proved that it really was the worst thing about our game. Still, I suppose it’s good that it was the biggest thing we had to moan about as we cruised to a seventh successive league win which kept us firmly at the top of the table, although Rangers remained on our heels. Hearts 2 – 0 Morton (Scottish Championship, 8/36) (King 27; Murphy 52)
  7. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “This football management sh*t is easy.” My tongue was firmly in my cheek as I talked to George following Monday’s training session but my confidence was certainly high. Eight straight wins in all competitions and no defeats in my nine-game managerial career was a nice way to start things, though I was also careful about pride coming before a fall. George and I had convened to discuss what our plans might be for the January window and how he might direct his scouting pool. “I’m still not sure about our options up front. Kwesi’s done fine and Callum’s looked good in flashes but they’re both loans, we can’t plan anything with them in mind. If you can dig out a striker we can afford who might be a little less profligate with his shooting, I’d be very interested.” George was in basic agreement with me, though he thought higher of Gavin Reilly’s chances of cementing his place in the starting line up once he’d returned from injury than I did. Or, to be more accurate, than I saw him being as a long term option. There wasn’t too much time to focus so far ahead though, with another game coming up. The Championship in Scotland isn’t the sort of league in which the games usually come thick and fast, for a start it has ten fewer games than its English namesake but this was one midweek in which we’d be pressed into action as Hamilton paid a visit to Tynecastle in the third round of the league cup. Our Premiership opponents had been made clear favourites for the match and it was perfectly understandable why. They came into the match on the back of three straight wins in the league – over Hibs, Kilmarnock and Motherwell – which had left them sitting in third place after seven games. Player/manager Martin Canning, who had been in charge for some 18 months since the departure of Alex Neil to Norwich, had got his players firing and performing above all expectations. This was undoubtedly going to be a tough test of our talents. The assumption of their victory was made even more certain when we named our team and Callum Paterson was fit enough only for the bench. Indeed, such was the fatigue he’d shown in training the previous day I’d strongly considered leaving him out of the squad altogether but instead decided to have him there just in case of emergency. There were a couple of other changes made for the necessity of keeping lads fit, as Neil Alexander came in for Jack Hamilton in goal, and took the captain’s armband vacated by Paterson, while Liam Smith took the full back’s place on the pitch. In midfield, Iain Vigurs and Charlie Telfer came in for Luke Murphy and Richie Towell, while Callum Robinson came back in give Santi Jara a rest as even after an early sub against St Mirren he was still struggling to get back up to speed. Hamilton too made three changes from their weekend whipping of Motherwell but they sent out a strong team with the prize of a place in the quarter finals at stake. Given how the first half played out though, they’d have perhaps been better fielding the exact same team who’d beaten the Steelmen so easily, though at least the changes gave them something of an excuse to hang onto for our domination of the game. That domination came to fruition in the 20th minute of the match when Liam Smith, who had seamlessly filled the role vacated by Paterson and caused no end of trouble with his runs down the right flank, arrived first to a half-cleared header. Gathering the ball just outside the penalty area on the right, he chipped in an exquisite cross, finding the head of the unmarked Kwesi Appiah who nodded in his fifth goal of the season – so much for my concerns about him not being efficient enough in front of goal. Appiah almost had his second just after the half hour but we were only denied extending our lead for roughly a second. After Vigurs was brought down by a rough challenge on the left wing – something which was a recurring theme throughout the game as Hamilton regularly forced the referee to intervene – Telfer claimed the free kick and made his claim for more regular game time with a perfectly weighted delivery into the six-yard box, which Appiah headed against the underside of the crossbar. Thankfully, Murray Wallace was the only one alert to the rebound and the centre back tucked the ball away into the open net to claim his first goal for the club. We could and perhaps should have gone further in front as the game pressed on – such was becoming the story of our season – but the players seemed content to sit on their two goal advantage and play the game out. They were given a moment of pause when half time substitute Liam Caddis got in behind our defence to turn home a cross from Danny Redmond with just over ten minutes remaining but that brief hiccup aside we were in total control and no result other than our victory looked even remotely likely. We might be in the second tier for the moment, but in winning so comfortably we had proved in our own minds if nothing else that we were one of the best sides in the country. Hearts 2 – 1 Hamilton (Scottish League Cup, 3rd Round) (Appiah 20; Wallace 31; Caddis 79)
  8. Terk

    A hometown hero

    Thanks chaps. It has been a great start to the season and to beat Rangers topped it off nicely. Long way to go yet though. ---------------------- For someone who was unhappy with the drinking culture that washed through Scottish football for so long and prided himself on his professional approach throughout his career, I should perhaps have been a little stricter about the celebrations on Saturday night. After all, it was only the first of four times we would play Rangers and the sixth of a thirty-six game season. Yes, the win had put us top of the league and we had dominated a match against the favourites for the title and I could understand the players wanting to celebrate that, given that they had Sunday off to recover, but with plenty of beer having already bene drunk before they left the stadium and headed into town for the night, I could have done a better job of keeping a lid on things. Thankfully on Monday morning there were no stories to wake up to of them getting themselves into bother, though I have to admit I didn’t sleep all that well worrying about it in the intervening time. I had decided to take Sunday off as well and tried to relax at home with a newspaper and some trash on the TV but I was overly anxious and tried texting a number of the players to find out if anything had happened the night before. A few were still slightly the worse for wear as we reconvened on Monday morning for training and, as such, I couldn’t stop myself from giving them a few more fitness drills to deal with than we’d normally put them through. By Tuesday everyone was back on form though and we began to look ahead to the weekend’s game, one that might feature a new face in the squad. Former Manchester United midfielder Joe Rothwell had impressed throughout his trial period, both in training with the senior squad and the three games he’d played with the youth team. He certainly looked like he might have a future with us and as he was a free agent before the transfer window shut, we had been in no hurry to secure a deal. However, with a few English Championship clubs having watched him and started to firm up their interest, it was time to put a deal on the table and he quickly signed a two-year contract worth £900 per week. *** Although Joe didn’t make it into the matchday squad for the visit of St Mirren, he was very much in the discussion for the midweek league cup fixture we had coming up. That was the only thought I’d given to the Hamilton match though, with the line-up for the clash with the Buddies featuring my strongest side, the only change from the Rangers game seeing Santi Jara come in for his first start, with Callum Robinson dropping to the bench and Sam Nicholson moving over to the left flank. There was something of a swagger about the players after the previous week’s result, as well as the knowledge that St Mirren had only won two of their first six league games and were coming off the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw against Falkirk back in Paisley. That confidence certainly translated itself onto the pitch – if not the scoreline – in the early stages of the first half as we continued to play the dominant passing game for which we were starting to build a reputation, even in the Scottish press which still largely ignored anything but Rangers outside the Premiership. The visitors played a very narrow back four with their full backs rarely venturing outside the width of the penalty area and sat deep, challenging us to break them down. That didn’t slow us down much as we just focused on getting the ball wide for Sam and Santi to cause them problems and made sure that both our full backs were pressing on to join in the attack. Nor did their deep block defence mean we had to resort to shots from distance as, of the 11 shots we had on goal in the first 45 minutes, 10 were from inside the box. The only problem was, they weren’t very accurate, with more than half being fired well off target. However, it was the 12th shot that proved to be the crucial one, coming a minute into added time at the end of the first half. Again we attacked down the flank as Santi Jara played a pass to find Callum Paterson in space and the flying right back swung a low cross into the six-yard box which Kwesi Appiah poked home from close range. The second half continued in much the same manner and even as we made our substitutions – with Billy King replacing Jara just before the hour mark, then Iain Vigurs and Callum Robinson taking the places of Luke Murphy and Appiah respectively – we didn’t miss a beat in our frustrating domination of the match. We carved out chance after chance no matter how St Mirren tried to stop us but our shooting was as wayward as I had ever seen it. There never felt like being any threat of St Mirren grabbing an equaliser but nor could I ever feel comfortable in a one-goal lead. It wasn’t until injury time at the end of the match – and our 22nd shot on goal of the contest – that we finally extended our lead to at the very least what our play deserved. In the final five minutes the visitors had tried to press forward slightly in search of the most unlikely of levellers, but all that did was provide us with more space to attack them as King lofted a ball forward over the top of their back four and Robinson ran onto it, taking one touch to steady himself before sliding a shot beyond Craig Samson in the St Mirren goal. Hearts 2 – 0 St Mirren (Scottish Championship, 7/36) (Appiah 45+1; Robinson 90+1)
  9. Just clocked onto this. Up front, as I should be, though frankly it's disgraceful that I'm not seeing more game time after making a good start to the season.
  10. There can be only one true choice. Sherwood for England.
  11. Terk

    A hometown hero

    Although there had been plenty of wheeling and dealing on deadline day, there was only one change made to the starting line-up for the visit of Rangers to Tynecastle. Callum Robinson came into the front three in place of Billy King, while Santi Jara and Charlie Telfer had to make do with places on the bench. Both had impressed significantly in the week or so of training they’d had since joining us, but with the team having made a solid start to the season I was loathe to throw them in straight away and potentially disrupt things, particularly in such a crucial game. Everyone expected Rangers to take the title this season. They’d had two cracks at winning promotion from the Championship and come up short both times, but this was their year. Some of the kinder pundits thought we might give them a run for maybe half the campaign, but the expectation was clear; come May Rangers would be lifting the title by a good ten-point margin. Although that irritated me, I did understand why everyone was so convinced by it. Looking on paper they seemed to have the better squad – they certainly paid much better wages – and we were coming off the back of a relegation with a squad weakened by having to sell some of our best players. We had been the division’s biggest spenders in the transfer window, splashing out £2,800,000 but we brought in £5,700,000 in fees for the players who were moved out and the press were very much treating us as a team who were three million pounds worse off in talent rather than one who’d got some good deals done. While the fans around the ground were clearly enjoying themselves in the build up to the match, I was, to use an indelicate phrase, ******** bricks. The game had been picked up for TV coverage which was something I could have done without, having to go through the rigmarole of TV interviews, answering even more banal questions than the print journalists could come up with as I tried to prepare the team for the game. The opening half hour of the match was as tense as I felt. There was no arrogance about the Rangers side, they clearly respected us and didn’t want to overcommit forward in our back yard. For our part, we did our best to continue our path of dominating the ball, probing for weakness and trying to strike when we found it. In truth there wasn’t much success for either side in that first thirty minutes, it passed like the opening rounds of an evenly matched fight in which the boxers tease each other with jabs. The first solid blow landed came from us in the 32nd minute when Richie Towell found an inch of space and threaded a lovely ball through to Kwesi Appiah but his shot cannoned back off the crossbar. Buoyed by that brief moment though, we began to take control of the match and Rangers began to shrink a little further back into their shells. This was not the side who had been battering every team they came across in the season so far. And as half time beckoned we finally made the breakthrough. A run down the left by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson put the full back in space and he cut a pass back to Towell on the edge of the box. The Irishman chipped a gorgeous ball to the back post where Sam Nicholson had got away from Lee Wallace and guided a header onto the inside of the far post, watching as it slowly bounced over the line before racing into the crowd to celebrate wildly. Half time was mostly spent trying to calm the players down as they were still on a high from the goal when the referee blew his whistle for the interval. We could have hoped for little better than we’d got during the first forty-five minutes but we knew at some point they would fight back and we had to be on our guard against it. We told the players to keep doing exactly as they had, controlling the ball, looking for opportunities but at the same time not losing their shape and discipline in defence. They performed admirably. We began the second half with every measure on control with which we’d finished the first and, though it took another half hour to come, when our second goal did arrive it was thoroughly deserved. In the 71st minute, Santi Jara had been sent on in place of Callum Robinson to make his debut, with Nicholson switching to the left wing and Santi taking up a place on the right. It didn’t take long for the Spaniard to make an impact as Kevin Stewart played an inch-perfect ball for him to run onto and his finish was fired low and hard past Wes Foderingham at the near post. The game was dead and buried and all we had to do was see it out, a job which we were doing perfectly until the 86th minute. Even during the tighter opening of the first half, Rangers had created nothing notable in terms of a chance on goal, but with less than five minutes left they won a free kick for an innocuous foul on halfway. James Tavernier launched the ball into the box and no one won the header, allowing it to fall to the unmarked Luca Gasparotto at the back post, who had enough time to take a touch before sweeping a shot beyond Jack Hamilton. Out of absolutely nothing they had halved the gap and we began to panic. Rangers swamped forward in search of an equaliser and won a corner, which Jason Holt fired into the box. Igor Rossi managed to head it clear to the edge of the area, but waiting there was Josh Windass, who fired a half-volley goalwards. His effort cracked off the crossbar but the rebound fell to Gasparotto, who tucked it in to bring the scores level. The Rangers fans behind the goal went crazy and my head fell into my hands until I felt Simon Donnelly tapping me on the shoulder and opened my eyes to see him pointing towards the assistant on the near side. His flag was raised. Offside. The referee was doing his best to tell the Rangers players that a free kick had been awarded. By the skin of our teeth we had survived and with Rangers brought crashing back to Earth they had nothing left in the tanks to force another threatening attack as we played out time until the end of the match. Hearts 2 – 1 Rangers (Scottish Championship, 6/36) (Nicholson 45; Jara 75; Gasparotto 86)
  12. Terk

    A hometown hero

    Apologies for the extended break, I've had a few other things on my plate recently. Back now though. ---------------------------------- The worst day of the season. That’s what I’d quickly come to learn in my short time as a football manager. Transfer deadline day was the worst day of the season. I’d long since grown sick of dealing with transfers. We’d had a busier summer than most with too many of our players demanding moves to greener prospects but it still felt like my first few months in the job had mostly been spent dealing with selling and signing rather than actually on the pitch coaching. The final day of the summer window got off to a bad start when George Adams told me that he’d accepted a £30,000from Leeds for young winger Callum Morrison. The deal had the potential to rise to £110,000 with performance-related add-ons, but I still thought that was low for a player of Callum’s potential. With the news that Soufiane El Hassnaoui was going to miss four to five months with a hernia too, meaning all the clubs interested in him were going to hold fire, it felt like it was going to be a bad day. That also meant we needed more strength in depth out wide. Had Morrison been available to me in the absence of both El Hassnaoui and Dario Zanatta, I’d have given the youngster his chance but he was on his way south for a medical at Elland Road and though I considered asking George to pull the plug on the deal, I decided to let it progress. Our Spanish scout Arkaitz Mota had been extolling the virtues of Albacete winger Santi Jara in the previous days, suggesting the 25-year-old would fit well with what we wanted to do and in the circumstances we didn’t have much time to debate, so quickly agreed a £100,000 fee with the Spanish club and got Santi on the next flight to Edinburgh. Just as the dust settled on that, however, we were dealt another blow. Derby came in with an offer matching the £1,000,000 up front that we’d been asking for Jamie Walker. Given that we’d told him we’d accept any bids which met our valuation, we were honour bound to do so and once we told him that he was free to talk to them, he bolted out of the training ground to make sure he could do the deal in time. Naturally, that meant we needed another attacking midfielder and George placed a few calls to a few agents, coming away with an interesting name. Dundee United were willing to let Charlie Telfer leave on loan for the season and the former Rangers man was a very talented prospect, so we agreed to their demands to pay his small wages for the season. As the day ended with the deals done though, the biggest success was that we’d managed to keep hold of Callum Paterson and Sam Nicholson. We’d spoken to both earlier in the day and told them that there hadn’t been any interest which matched what we thought they were worth. Both lads took the news well, said they were happy to stay and commit themselves to winning promotion for the club. It was exactly the reaction I was after, and as Callum left for the day he even mentioned that he might talk to his agent about sorting out a new contract. In the next few days I took those words to heart and so did George. When the morning came round we were on the phone and trying to sort out a deal. With the international break meaning that we had a good gap before we took to the field again we had time to dedicate to working things out, but it took only three days to come to an agreement. A new four-year deal, taking his wage from £1,700 per week to £3,000, then up another thousand when we reached the Premiership. Added to that was a cast-iron release clause of £3,500,000 which reduced to £2,400,000 if we didn’t win promotion this season. It was a deal which suited all parties and certainly made the fans happy when it was announced. *** The international break also afforded me the chance to spend a bit more time with Amy, and with the Paterson deal in the bag we decided to take a weekend away. It was last minute but at the start of September there were still plenty of deals to be had and so on Friday evening we quickly packed some clothes, dug out the passports and headed to the airport to catch a flight to Madrid. Three hours later we were touching down on Spanish soil, greeted by a particularly unwelcome rain but almost giddy at the prospect of two full days with no distractions – she’d made me promise to leave me phone at home. It was a wonderful weekend spent walking around the beautiful city, sitting outside numerous bars with cold beers and watching the world go by. At one point we came in sight of the Santiago Bernabeu and, though I’d promised that there would be no football to spoil things – I spent a few seconds looking up in awe at the mighty arena which had seen some of the game’s greatest names grace its turf. By Monday morning when we were back at the airport waiting for our flight home I was refreshed and ready to go again into the heart of the season, as well as feeling as close to Amy as I ever had. As we took our seats on the plane and she lay her head on my shoulder and began to drift away into sleep I took a moment to think about how lucky I was.
  13. Starting a petition. It's Shelvey out or gav out.
  14. Not reading unless you sack off Jonjo Shelvey.
  15. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “F*cking roll on next Thursday when all this sh*t is done and gone until January.” I was getting sick of transfers. I longed for a day when George Adams didn’t knock on my office door with another player to recommend or news of another bid for one of our players. I just wanted to know who we had, work with them, improve them where we could and get results on the pitch. I was getting close to telling George he could handle everything on the transfer front, even deciding who we would sign, but I wasn’t quite that exasperated yet. For some reason Leeds had it in their head that we would happily sell Russell McLean, one of our best young prospects, for less than £100,000 – and less than £20,000 as an upfront payment. To be fair to George, this was an area of the squad where he had total autonomy and he was just letting me know that he’d told Leeds exactly where they could shove their bid, but also that he’d offered Russell a new contract as the young lad was entering the final year of his current deal. I thanked him and headed down to the training pitch where I was greeted by the good news from the medical team that Jamie Walker was cleared to fully take part in the sessions again and could be picked in the squad as well. However, with just one session under his belt I wasn’t going to consider him for the game the next day; there was a two-week gap thanks to the international break afterwards and we could spend that getting his fitness levels back up to where they needed to be, then bring him back into the line-up for the visit of Rangers. *** Jamie’s absence from the squad meant that Richie Towell and Billy King kept their places without challenge for the trip to face Queen of the South. Dumfries’ finest had a mixed start to the campaign, securing wins over Cowdenbeath and St Mirren but losing heavily to both Dunfermline and Rangers, the latter of which had been a 4-0 battering the previous weekend. I was certainly confident that we could add to their column of losses and was starting to settle down on what was going to be my strongest team for the season, with Mason Holgate joined for his debut by Murray Wallace in the centre of defence, while Billy King and Sam Nicholson took the spots either side of Kwesi Appiah in the front three. One thing that I had perhaps glossed over in my frustration at our profligacy in front of goal was that we were playing some wonderful football in the build-up. I was determined that we were going to dominate possession as much as possible, force the opposition to tire themselves out in chasing us down and then strike. Or just pass it round them and score beautiful goals. That was what happened in the 12th minute when a series of quick passes through the middle gave King the space to play a pass out to the left for Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. The left back was eager to get forward at any and every opportunity and his cross was perfectly placed for Appiah to sidefoot a shot beyond Robbie Thomson in the home side’s goal. We’d already missed two chances before Appiah found the net and we missed another when the Ghanaian was played clear by a gorgeous pass from Richie Towell but shot straight at Thomson when one-on-one. A second goal could have also come when Callum Paterson marauded down the right flank and played a one-two with Nicholson before watching his shot crack back off the post. The second goal which we fully deserved wasn’t long in coming though, when Sam Nicholson started a move with a jinking run through the centre of the park. He shifted a pass inside to Kevin Stewart, who in turn played it out to Borthwick-Jackson. Nicholson had kept his run going and Cameron played a pass into his path, giving Sam the chance to fire in a first time shot which flicked off the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net – his sixth goal of an already impressive season. Getting both full backs forward to stretch Queen’s defence was turning out to be the best attacking ploy we had in the match and it was providing chance after chance as we continued to dominate. In the 35th minute, Borthwick-Jackson should have had a hat-trick of assists when he slid a ball across the six-yard box but Paterson shot wide as Thomson raced off his line to close him down. The half-time break was spent trying to ensure that the players didn’t get complacent about their superiority in the contest. The hosts had barely laid a glove on us and Murray Wallace was being given the easiest of introductions into our side, but I was aware that even a slight slip could see that change in an instant and I wanted to make sure that they kept their wits and concentration about them. In truth I might have gone a little too far in my warnings as the second half turned into little of an event as we seemed reticent to get forward as much as we had before the interval and the hosts sat back determined not to lose as heavily as they had against Rangers. In a way it suited both sides to simply play out time until the final whistle came and that’s what happened as we picked up another three points, keeping us just two behind Callum Davidson’s Rangers, who made it five wins from five with a 2-0 success over St Mirren at Ibrox. Queen of the South 0 – 2 Hearts (Scottish Championship, 5/36) (Appiah 12; Nicholson 24)
  16. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “I don’t know, breaking the transfer record again? Do we want to be seen as a club who operates like that? We’re Hearts, we bring lads through.” “That’s small time thinking, Patrick. We’ve still got plenty of lads who came through the academy. And you can play Liam Henderson as your starting centre back for the season if you want, see how far that gets you.” “I guess I just didn’t expect to be spending like this.” “You’re the first manager I’ve worked with to moan about being given money to spend.” I laughed at the thought. “We can give David García a contract.” “On your hear be it, you’ve got final say.” I got up from my behind my cheap pine desk and strolled over to the small window that looked out over the training pitches. The rain was hammering down as I mulled over the options before me. “Get Murray’s agent on the phone.” I only had a one-year contract, realistically at this stage I didn’t have the luxury to play the long game that I might ideally have wanted to. Liam Henderson, though naturally a left back, might make a workable option in the centre given time, but to front a promotion challenge in what might be my only season as manager at the club? That would be a risk. And who was I kidding myself, David García was never really an option. He’d even been outpaced by the goalkeepers in a sprint test among the players that morning. The deal for Murray Wallace would see us pay Scunthorpe £500,000 up front, with a further £750,000 in instalments over the next two years. Once we’d come to an agreement with the club, George went to work on the player and his agent, which went as smoothly as could have been hoped. A three-year deal worth over £4,000 per week – a figure which would rise by almost a third should we be promoted to the top flight – was agreed and he was told to pack a suitcase and be at Riccarton in the morning for a medical and to complete the paperwork. With any luck he’d be available for me to select for the weekend’s trip to Dumfries. *** Before that, however, we had the small matter of facing Cowdenbeath in the second round of the League Cup. Having already put them to the sword in the league I felt confident that we could repeat the dose at Tynecastle, and with Murray having completed the formalities on his deal in the morning, in time to be presented to the crowd during half time in the game, there was a positive feeling all around the club. It took less than forty-five minutes of the match for that positivity to drain through the floor and for those in attendance at Tynecastle to return to their miserable selves. There are few crowds I’d come across in my years in the game who were as quick to moan as those at Hearts, but I suppose I had to see their side of things when we were trailing at half time against a side who were likely to spend the season battling against relegation. The first blow of the evening had come when Dario Zanatta had to be helped from the pitch with a knee injury which the doc said on first look appeared to be a nasty ligament strain; a good couple of months on the sidelines for our young Canadian international. The visitors took advantage of our uncertainty as we shifted things around with Soufian El Hassnaoui coming on for Dario and within five minutes they had the lead, Nejc Praprotnik doing just enough to stab the ball past Neil Alexander and open the scoring. I hadn’t anticipated having to have strong words with the players during the interval and the mood in the stands somewhat dampened the enthusiasm for having Murray paraded on the pitch, holding aloft a maroon and white scarf, but nevertheless I tore into a few of them. Veteran Liam Fox was having a stinker in the middle of the park, while young Sean McKirdy wasn’t doing his hopes of nailing down a more regular starting position any good whatsoever. Still, I resisted the temptation to make further changes, giving the players who had got us into this situation the chance to get us out of it. The performance level did pick up a little during the second half, enough at least to grab an equaliser but no more. Just after the hour, Danny Seabourne punted the ball long down the left flank for Callum Robinson to chase. With the striker out of position, Billy King got on his bike to arrive at the back post just in time to meet Robinson’s cross with a deft sidefoot finish and bring us level. In the remaining half hour we sent on Richie Towell for Iain Vigurs and Sam Nicholson for goalscorer King, but even the arrival of two of our best players did little for our prospects of winning the game in ninety minutes. Even the first half of extra time passed by without incident, Cowdenbeath determined at least to hold on for a penalty shoot-out as their best hope of getting something out of the match. But finally as penalties loomed, our superior fitness began to tell over the Blue Brazil and twice in the last eight minutes Nicholson got on the end of crosses from right back Liam Smith to score and put us into the hat for the third round. Hearts 3 – 1 Cowdenbeath (A.E.T) (Scottish League Cup, 2nd Round) (Praprotnik 37; King 62; Nicholson 112, 116)
  17. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “It’s f*cking August. How’s it this f*cking cold?” “It’s Edinburgh. What are you expecting?” Simon Donnelly had a smile on his face as he laughed at me running back in from the chill day as the players warmed up on the pitch. I suppose he was right; I should be more thankful that it wasn’t raining than moaning about the lack of sun. I’d lived here most of my life, I should have been used to it by now. Perhaps I should also have been focusing on what threats Dunfermline might pose on their visit to Tynecastle, but something about the way the players were going through their drills and the atmosphere in the when they had arrived had me calm and confident about the game ahead. They were focused, determined and on-form, today was going to be a good day. Even Mason Holgate looked at home. I’d expected a few nerves from the 19-year-old ahead of his league debut but he was as calm as any of the other lads, sharing a few jokes with Igor Rossi in the broken English the Brazilian could manage and getting to know his fellow loanee from the north-west, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson. They were part of a very strong side I’d been able to put out, with Sam Nicholson back on the right, my favoured midfield trio of Stewart, Murphy and Towell and Kwesi Appiah coming in for the injured Gavin Reilly. My expectations of an enjoyable Saturday afternoon were confirmed as early as the seventh minute when we took the lead. We’d already picked Dunfermline’s defence apart a couple of times since the start of the match when Nicholson laid a ball off to Appiah and he slid in a pass which put Towell clear. The Irishman’s powerful shot was saved by Robby McCrorie, but the rebound cannoned into defender Lewis Martin and rolled into the back of the net. It was a nice feeling as a coach too, as during our tactical session we’d worked on getting the ball out wide and then quickly back into the middle when just outside their penalty area, the theory being that their full backs tended to follow the ball and therefore we could expose space around their central defenders. However, it was from a set piece that we grabbed our second goal some nine minutes later. I would never style myself on Tony Pulis and his use of Rory Delap, but one undoubted talent that Callum Paterson possessed was to launch the ball into a crowded penalty area from the touchline. In the 16th minute, he did just that and Callum Robinson got to the front post to win the flick on but it looked like the chance might have been missed when Igor Rossi smashed his effort straight at McCrorie from five yards out. However, Borthwick-Jackson was alert to the situation and reacted quickest to the rebound, sliding in to stab it home and double our lead with his first goal for the club. If we didn’t quite feel ready to put our feet up after that, we certainly did four minutes later. Again the plan we had set in place came into play, with Towell pushing a pass wide to an unmarked Paterson on the right flank. Immediately Dunfermline left back Jason Talbot raced over to cover and Callum passed inside to Appiah. With the defence struggling to cover the gaps, Robinson made a run in behind which Appiah found with ease and the Aston Villa man took a touch before battering a shot beyond McCrorie. The players knew that even with 70 minutes of the match still to play, the game was done and the points were won unless they did something drastic and stupid and they found no dissent from the sidelines. With another cup tie scheduled for Tuesday evening we got the message on for them to control the ball but ease the pace. There was no need to put the pressure on anymore. Take chances if they came but just keep it calm, sensible and most of all exert as little energy as possible in ensuring that the game remained safe. They carried out the instructions perfectly until the 87th minute and by that time it was too late to matter much. Frankly, even if they’d been playing for their lives there would have been little they could have done about the fluke that got the Pars on the scoresheet. The ball came out to Daniel Carmichael, forty yards from goal on the right flank and his attempt to hit a crossfield pass was so wildly inaccurate that it sailed over the head of Jack Hamilton and into the corner of the net. At least he had the decency to barely celebrate. As well as maintaining our unbeaten start to the season, the three points kept us well in touch with Rangers, who looked set to be an immovable object in our path to promotion. Callum Davidson’s side had put Queen of the South to the sword at Ibrox that afternoon, meaning they had won each of their four opening games, scoring thirteen goals in the process. All we could do was stick close and hope they eventually tripped up. Hearts 3 – 1 Dunfermline (Scottish Championship, 4/36) (Martin (OG) 7; Borthwick-Jackson 16; Robinson 20; Carmichael 87)
  18. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “Jesus Christ, I think an oil tanker would turn quicker than him.” I watched on as a simple ball over the top had left David García floundering, with Gavin Reilly running beyond him and calmly finishing past Neil Alexander. We were running a few attack v defence drills at the end of a long session during which the 34-year-old Spanish trialist had generally impressed, but pace was not his strong suit. “Heads everything though.” Simon was right, of course. He had shown in just one day that he was imperious in the air, something I valued greatly at this level. But I couldn’t get past how long it had taken him to turn and get after Gavin. It could have been measured in ice ages. “He’s captain material too, for when Callum’s rested.” “And he clearly reads the game brilliantly. But f*ck me, Simon, you’re quicker than him. I think George is quicker than him.” The session ended and as the players headed off for their meal I wandered back to my office and flicked on my computer. There was an email waiting for me from Arkaitz, who had been in Scunthorpe watching Murray Wallace. The game he’d attended handed ended well for Murray’s side, a 2-0 home defeat against Coventry but alongside fellow Scot Jamie Ness he was one of the few players on the losing side who came out of the clash with anything good to be said about them. It seemed to me reading the few pages that Arkaitz had put together on the game and Murray’s performance that he was a solid all round defender – no particular weak spots but nothing that marked him out as exceptional either. His strength and work rate were highlighted as his best features, while it was noted that he did get beat in the air a few times but he was comfortable on the ball, had enough pace and generally made good decisions. He was going to cost the best part of a million pounds, perhaps even more, but had a solid base and the capacity to improve. It was coming down to a straight choice between a good all-round project player or a stop-gap who tackled and headed everything in sight but curled up in the foetal position at the merest hint of pace. This wasn’t going to be an easy choice. *** It was a rare night that I got away from the club early, but we’d shelved the García v Wallace discussion until Arkaitz had another chance to watch Murray in action at the weekend and so by five o’clock I was done for the day. I’d put together the information for the tactical and video session we had scheduled with the lads in the morning and so I jumped in the car and set off on the drive home before anything else could come up which needed my attention. Be home by six. Should I pick up a pizza? I pressed send on the text to Amy as I turned onto the city bypass and continued on my way. So often I had to lock myself away in the office of an evening and slog through whichever mountain of work I had to do that we only really got chance to speak to each other when we sat down to eat. But the prospect of a night on the sofa with Netflix on the telly – Person of Interest was the latest series she’d got me hooked into – had me as excited as a kid in a sweet shop. It had been a long week though and stuffed full of pizza and wine I fell asleep somewhere in the middle of the third episode of the night, occasionally catching the sound of my own snoring and startling myself awake, only to drift off again a few seconds later. When next I woke, a blanket had been pulled over me and a cushion placed beneath my head. There was no sign of Amy and it was pitch black in the room around me as I sat up and rubbed my eyes. I rummaged around in my pockets for my phone and hit the lock button, the screen lighting up and hurting my eyes for a moment. Almost 2am. I’d been out for hours. I hadn’t felt so relaxed in months. I crept upstairs as quietly as I could and slipped into bed beside Amy, gently kissing her bare shoulder before I turned over and drifted off again, knowing that tomorrow it would be nose to the grindstone again.
  19. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “They want to keep him in for a few days, but it's not as bad as it looked.” I'd spent my Sunday morning travelling to Dunfermline where Gavin Reilly was still laid in a hospital bed, so when club captain Callum Paterson called me that afternoon I at least had something of an answer for him. The mood on the coach on the way home after the game had been sombre, but with the initial tests done it seemed that the damage to his spine was only relatively minor – thankfully no surgery was needed – and he'd make a full recovery. Our medical department had been allowed to look through the results and their best guess was that he'd be out for around three months, but they'd know better once he was back at the club and they could do a full check-up on him. With the games coming thick and fast I had to leave Gavin to the nurses and head back across the bridge to Edinburgh, as Mason Holgate was due at Riccarton in the afternoon to undergo his medical and complete his loan move from Everton. The young defender, who could also play at right back, looked like he'd be a starter for us very quickly but recruiting him wasn't the end of our defensive plans. I still wanted another centre back and, with Fran Velez at Derby demanding £9,000 per week to even consider a move to Hearts, we had to consider other names. Arkaitz Mota suggested taking a look at veteran Spaniard David García, who had played over 400 games for Las Palmas before finally leaving them in the summer. The 34-year-old looked like he could be a decent stop gap option, but my first choice was Murray Wallace. The former Rangers and Falkirk man would cost a lot and I wanted to be sure before I committed, so we dispatched Arkaitz to watch him in Scunthorpe's games against Coventry and Sheffield United. *** Realistically, the last thing we needed was another midweek game as we tried to get some time on the training pitch with the players to address the issues which had arisen over the first few games. However, again we had just a light session on Monday before we were back into action on Tuesday evening, with our Challenge Cup second round tie taking us over to the west to face Ayr. I decided to go with a young starting eleven, bolstered by some more experienced names on the bench, who I would try not to use if at all possible. However, there were a few first teamers who had to play from the start, with Callum Paterson taking the armband back from Luke Murphy and Kev Stewart coming back into midfield. With Neil Alexander and Juwon Oshaniwa in defence, helping out debutant Holgate, and Iain Vigurs starting in the middle, there were some old heads to guide the young lads. On the night it turned out that Vigurs was the standout performer. He was exactly what a manager wants from an experienced pro in a team full of kids, controlling the game and giving a calm, composed performance. Add to that the fact that his set-piece delivery saw him bag three assists over the ninety minutes and I genuinely couldn't have asked for more. The first came just before the half hour when Stewart won a free kick on the right flank and Vigurs' delivery was aimed perfectly onto the head of youngster Russell McLean. The striker had made four sub appearances in the previous season without getting on the scoresheet, but in his first professional start he guided a lovely header beyond Greg Fleming in Ayr's goal and wheeled away to celebrate. It was the second half before we added to our tally for the evening, this time Vigurs' superb delivery coming from a corner, with which he found Callum Paterson who bulleted a powerful header into the corner of the net. Ayr had little to offer in an attacking sense and were just trying to keep the scoreline respectable, but we added a third in the final ten minutes when another Vigurs corner was headed in by Igor Rossi, who had come on for Paterson just after the hour, with Holgate shifting out to right back for the remainder of his debut. It was tough to draw any conclusions about the Everton man on his first appearance for the club, such was the rarity of Ayr's attacks, but he seemed to offer what we wanted and certainly put himself in the conversation for the weekend's trip to Dunfermline. Ayr 0 – 3 Hearts (Scottish League Challenge Cup, 2nd round) (McLean 28; Paterson 52; Rossi 83)
  20. Terk

    A hometown hero

    A decent start indeed. Always nice to get an early result over a team you expect to be a rival for the season. ----------------- In hindsight it seemed obvious that, with three games packed into the opening week of the league season, we were going to pick up some injuries. Jamie Walker had taken a hefty blow on the top of his foot with fifteen minutes of the match against Falkirk still to go and the scores level, but with all three substitutes used he'd had to hobble through what remained of the game. We'd given the players who were in the matchday squad the following day off to rest up for the weekend, but Jamie was to be found in the treatment room. The fear had initially been that there might be a small fracture that would keep him out for a few months, but thankfully once the docs were done with their tests it proved to be nothing more than some nasty bruising. The prognosis was that he'd be out of action for two, perhaps three weeks. Better than expected but still a pain in the arse. There was worse news yet to come that day though. One of our scouts, former Wales international Andy Marriott, had been offered a contract by Premiership outfit Hamilton. Both George Adams and I rated Andy's opinion highly and spent much of the morning trying to convince him to stay put at Tynecastle, offering him a new deal and improved terms, but his mind was made up and he was off west. The £20,000 we received in compensation for him was scant consolation. However, this was exactly why having an experienced man like George on my side was a Godsend. Immediately he began working his contacts in the game and brought in a fellow veteran of the Scottish ranks, Bobby Dickson, who had been working as Chief Scout at Queen's Park. The 61-year-old was only too happy to join our ranks, and George further swelled his scouting team with the recruitment of former Barcelona and Real Madrid talent spotter Arkaitz Mota, a 35-year-old who would hopefully help us continue the line of talented Spaniards who had taken to the Tynecastle pitch in the maroon jersey over the years. I still held a special place in my heart for Juanjo. After a quick look in on how training was going for the young lads in the Under-20 squad, the rest of the day was spent looking over hours of player videos and scout reports. The latest recommendation from George's team was Joe Rothwell, a young midfielder who had been released by Manchester United at the end of the previous season. At 21, they clearly felt he hadn't progressed enough, but watching what little video we had on him made it clear that there was a player in him, confident on the ball and with a good reading of the game. He was perhaps lacking on the physical side of things, so we weren't entirely confident in pulling the trigger and offering him a deal, but both he and his agent seemed happy to accept a month-long trial to let us get to know him a bit better. *** When the players reported back for training on Friday – a light session aimed mostly at recovery work before we went through some video analysis and tactics – it was clear that a few changes would have to be made for the trip to face Cowdenbeath at Central Park. Our pre-season hadn't prepared the lads yet for playing three games in a week, so Callum Paterson, Igor Rossi and Juwon Oshaniwa dropped out in defence, as did Kev Stewart in midfield and the front three was changed entirely, with Billy King, Gavin Reilly and Callum Robinson taking the places of Nicholson, Appiah and Walker. We were given a warning sign early on when Nejc Praprotnik cut inside Liam Smith and shot from the edge of the penalty area, but Jack Hamilton held onto it comfortably, and within 30 seconds we were up the other end of the pitch, winning a penalty. Hamilton's clearing kick was worked out to Smith on the right and then back inside to Sean McKirdy. The youngster played a pass to Richie Towell, but the Irishman's attempted shot was blocked by Craig Reid and the ball fell to Robinson. However, before he could sort out his feet, Shaun Fraser barged into him from behind and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Captain Luke Murphy handed the ball to Reilly and the striker, who only managed a single league goal last season, tucked away his penalty beyond Grant Adam. Early goals are always a big boost and when we quickly added a second I felt relaxed enough to lean back in my seat in the dugout and smile. The hosts had pushed forward straight away after our opener, perhaps overreacting to our lead and a counter attack saw Billy King put away down the inside right channel. His pace took him into the penalty area and, where many would have shot from a tight angle, he showed his unselfishness to square the ball for Reilly who tapped in his second goal of the afternoon. My relaxation didn't last for long though, as we were soon counter-punched in very similar fashion. It was part of our game plan to keep a high defensive line, but neither Danny Seabourne nor Liam Henderson were the fastest as a centre back partnership and a simple ball over the top from Praprotnik put Lewis Milne into the clear, with the midfielder having enough time to run in on goal, steady himself and finish calmly beyond Hamilton to halve their deficit. In reality, their goal did little to dampen our dominance of the match. We continued to fashion chances, and good ones at that, but unlike in the first ten minutes we simply failed to put them away. The two most glaring misses both came from McKirdy, however, with the midfielder making a great late run into the box just after the half hour to meet Smith's cross, but his tame sidefoot volley was straight at Grant Adam. The next came just after half time when he sprang Cowdenbeath's attempts to play offside from Richie Towell's free kick and was unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but this time he didn't even make Adam work for his money as he fired over the bar. It seemed like the game would progress this way for what remained of the match until the moment we were inevitably sucker-punched by an equaliser, but it took a turn for the much worse with twenty minutes remaining when Reilly fell awkwardly after going up for a header and came down heavily on his back. He lay there, motionless, as the medics from both sides ran on to help him and the sight of him being stretchered away with an oxygen mask on was hard to take, even if he did try to assuage fears with the standard thumbs up to the crowd as he departed the scene. The injury meant we had to make our final sub earlier than I had planned, with Canadian winger Dario Zanatta taking his place on the left and Robinson moving up front. There was something of a muted feel to the rest of the match as we controlled possession, but as the clock ticked past the ninety minutes we secured the three points when Liam Smith marauded forward from full back and saw his shot saved, only for Zanatta to tap in the rebound. Cowdenbeath 1 – 3 Hearts (Scottish Championship, 3/36) (Reilly pen 7, 10; Milne 12; Zanatta 90+1)
  21. Terk

    A hometown hero

    “I think it's harsh on Gavin.” My assistant, Simon Donnelly, had been pushing hard for Reilly to keep his place from the weekend almost since full time. I hadn't seen enough from him though, and my indecision over which of my strikers it was best to use had plagued most of my time since. As I finally made the call on who would start against Falkirk, it was Kwesi Appiah who got the nod. A far easier decision was to drop Danny Seabourne in favour of Liam Henderson. Liam was a left back by trade who had spent the previous season on loan at Stenhousemuir in League 1 and, from what I'd seen in training, looked ready to make his Hearts debut, even if it did mean playing him slightly out of position. That was the extent to which I'd been unimpressed with Seabourne. The availability of Luke Murphy also saw our midfield re-jigged, with the former Leeds man taking the holding role over from Richie Towell, who moved to the left of the three and was given the duty of being the side's playmaker. This meant that Jamie Walker was shifted out onto the left wing and Callum Robinson dropped to the bench for the evening's game. After giving the player's Sunday off, we'd only had a light session on Monday and then a full day on Tuesday to get the players ready for the match, but they looked more focused after Saturday's disappointment and as I watched them go through their drills on a balmy August evening I began to feel confident again. That confidence was replaced by nerves as kick-off neared. Nearly 15,000 people were sat in the stands awaiting my home debut as manager. I hadn't even been this nervous when I made my playing debut for the club all those years ago. Then perhaps the enthusiasm of youth had won the day but now all I could think about was how disappointed I'd felt as one of those supporters just a few short months ago and the possibility of letting my friends down. I knew how moany the Tynecastle crowd could be – almost always were, to be honest – so it was a nice surprise to hear a roar as the game got underway. From the off the players responded to the noise and we looked far more comfortable than Peter Houston's side did and just as against Dumbarton we struck early on. Towell won the ball on the halfway line from Ryan McCord and before the Falkirk man could pick himself up off the ground had played a pass in to the feet of Appiah. The visitor's defence, who had been holding a high line, immediately began retreating as Appiah turned and, just as I'd asked them to, Walker and Sam Nicholson sprinted beyond the striker. With options both right and left, and with Kevin Stewart offering himself as a backup option, Appiah threaded a pass between centre back and full back for Nicholson, who took one touch to steady himself and then smashed a shot on the half volley beyond goalkeeper Aynsley Pears to give us the lead. We continued to dominate in the wake of the goal, with Walker and Towell combining down the left in the 14th minute to create a chance for Appiah, but his shot sneaked wide of the post. Then the Ghanaian striker turned provider once again, slipping a pass in for Nicholson just as he had for the goal, but this time Falkirk full back Victor Fernández was alive to the danger and blocked the shot out for a corner. The visitors finally got their first shot on goal in the 22nd minute when Fernández got away down the left and swung in a cross which David Smith headed well over the bar, but perhaps we should have taken it as a warning shot that they were getting a grip on the game. However, I don't think anyone could have predicted the manner in which they grabbed their equaliser. Aaron Muirhead lined up a long throw from level with the edge of our penalty area. We'd prepared for the danger he would pose with his long, looping throw-ins, but it did us no good. He aimed for the near post and Craig Sibbald went up for the header. However, the midfielder mistimed his jump and missed the ball, meaning goalkeeper Jack Hamilton should have had a simple catch. His concentration had been broken by Sibbald jumping across his line though and he was off balance as the ball landed in his arms and he stumbled back across the line, gifting Falkirk the most laughable of own goals I'd ever seen. The manner in which we conceded knocked the stuffing out of us and Houston's side began to dominate the game. Unlike us, they made the most of their superiority as well, but the goal which put them in front was another which could have easily been avoided. McCord's corner kick should have been easy for Nicholson to intercept, but his mis-controlled the ball, giving it straight to Sibbald. He shifted a quick pass to his right, where David Smith took one touch to roll it out from under his feet then a second to rifle a shot well out of the reach of Hamilton and into the back of the net, sending the few hundred travelling fans in the Roseburn stand absolutely wild. “Look, we just need to calm down. You're the better players, the better team. We could have been three up before they scored. Go out there and get control of this game back.” I'd considered being much more harsh in what I said at half time, but the look on the players' faces told me they knew exactly what they'd done wrong. I resisted the desire to make changes, but they only got a ten minute reprieve. We still looked lethargic in the opening stages of the second half, so we switched from the 4-3-3 we had been playing to a 4-2-3-1, with Towell and Stewart sitting deep and Murphy's debut coming to an end as he was replaced by Robinson. The Aston Villa man was put out on the left flank, with Jamie Walker shifted inside to play behind Appiah, who was asked to play on the shoulder of the last defender, rather than drop deep as he had been doing. It began to pay off quickly as Towell got his foot on the ball and began to control midfield and within another ten minutes we had our equaliser. We'd been pushing Falkirk back, something they seemed perfectly happy with as they looked to protect what they had but when they failed to clear a corner, Appiah found Paterson in space and the right back, who made his breakthrough into the side as a striker, blasted a shot beyond Pears at the near post. From the moment our second goal went in, it looked like only a matter of time before we got the third. Rather than trying to grab a winner themselves, Falkirk looked terrified of conceding again and retreated further and further back into their shells. All they did was give us as much of the ball as we wanted though and we still had plenty of time to fashion some good chances. Eventually the winner came when Robinson won the ball on the left and it was quickly shifted through Walker and out to Paterson on the right. Having scored our second, Paterson was in confident mood and his pin-point cross found the head of Appiah, who guided it beyond Pears and into the corner of the net. Falkirk were disgusted that referee Kevin Graham hadn't given a foul when Robinson took the ball off Scott Shepherd, indeed Simon Ferry protested so vociferously that he earned himself a second yellow card and an early bath. With them down to ten men and us in the lead, we decided to ease off the gas for the final ten minutes, controlling the ball and the pace of the game as playing out time easily until the final whistle. Hearts 3 – 2 Falkirk (Scottish Championship, 2/36) (Nicholson 10; Hamilton (OG) 28; Smith 35; Paterson 62; Appiah 79; Ferry s/off 79)
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