Hearts: The View From the Opposition
After a two week break from domestic football, this Sunday sees the return of Premiership action for Dundee as we take on Hearts at Dens Park.
Dundee are currently in the middle of an horrendous run of form at home which has seen five straight league defeats and the club teetering on the edge of the bottom two places in the table. Hearts away form isn't that much better either with only two wins on the road out of ten.
Both teams are in need of a win. Hearts will be hoping to catch up on a resurgent Kilmarnock side in fifth place while Dundee are in dire need to ending their barren run of defeats at Dens and creating some breathing space between Partick Thistle and Ross County.
In the lead up to Sundays game, we spoke to SPFL Blogger, Scotsman Sport online-writer and The Terrace Podcast editor-in-chief Craig Fowler to chat about his beloved Hearts.
Hearts look destined for a third top six finish since promotion. This must have been the aim for the team at the start of the season but do you think that this term has been a disappointment for the club?
Undoubtedly. It's hard to summarise expectations at the outset because of the whole Ian Cathro saga. As soon as Hearts lost to Peterhead in the Betfred Cup I think everyone knew it was going to be a tough season even if the club did the right thing, which they did, in binning the head coach. Probably the most disappointing aspect is that when Hearts finally did get on the right path - the clean sheet run, beating Hibs in the cup - it looked like the chance was really there to kick on and challenge Hibs for fourth place, but instead the two sides have gone in different directions, really. They've gotten better while Hearts have been weakened. Injuries have played a part but it goes back to the previous summer and how the squad was set up. There's a real imbalance and one or two key players being out causes the house of cards to come tumbling down.
In the league you have also seen Hibs come out on top in the Edinburgh Derby with Hearts failing to find the net once. You did however get a win against them in the Scottish Cup which gave birth to Craig Leveins ‘Natural order’ comment. It must be tough to see a team you have normally dominated to have the upper hand?
It's Hibs' best sequence of games against Hearts since the 1970s so there's absolutely no doubt this is tough to take. What's most troubling from a Hearts perspective is the general rejuvenation around Hibs. A couple of years ago Hearts were in the top flight averaging 16k a week while Hibs were in the second tier struggling to break 10k. Next season I wouldn't be too surprised if Hibs average a higher attendance than Hearts, which would be the first time that has happened for a long, long time. It's definitely the most positive I'm seen my Hibs supporting mates in years - probably a decade - while it's just a slog for Hearts fans right now.
Steven Naismith was a massive coup for Hearts when you brought him in on-loan in January. Most clubs would love to have a forward line with a player of the calibre like him along with Kyle Lafferty. For any fans that have yet to see any Hearts matches, how has the signing worked out for the Jam Tarts?
He's not quite lived up to the hype but I, for one, would still love to see him stick around for next season. He's lost a bit of the spark he once had - that little bit of explosiveness around the final third - but he's still technically and intelligently well ahead of most of his team-mates. He and Lafferty don't work particularly well in isolation because there's a lack of pace between the two, but they did link up well together in the recent win over Partick Thistle so there's perhaps more to come. Getting David Milinkovic fit again would be huge for the front three functioning well together. He's got that bit of pace and quickness that Hearts otherwise lack.
I know you are in the process of watching every top flight match this season so you will have witnessed the good and bad that Dundee have produced. What’s your thoughts on our league position? Is it fully deserved or are you surprised?
For a lot of the season I thought Dundee were in a false position and that it was only a matter of time before they figured things out and moved away from immediate danger of relegation. However, that was based on the assumption that they'd get a little bit more ruthless in the opposing penalty area and a bit more street-wise in their own. Seeing as that hasn't happened and we're now into the season's final quarter, I can't say I am surprised. You can knock the ball about with as much confidence as you like, but if you're poor in both boxes then there's only one thing that's going to happen.
What players in our current team have impressed you and who should Hearts be weary of?
Glen Kamara is probably the only Dundee player who has "impressed" me over the course of the season. If Neil McCann fancies another spectacular falling out with a first-team player, ala Scott Bain, I would love to see the defensive midfielder at Tynecastle. As for who Hearts should be wary of, Simon Murray didn't set the heather alight at Hibs and still managed to bag the winner in an Edinburgh derby. It would be typical of this season if he did likewise in a Dundee shirt.
And vice-versa, what players should Dundee look out for in the Hearts team?
Hard to say because it's always difficult to know who's going to play. Levein likes to chop and change his starting XI, often with little rhyme or reason. In attack, Lafferty is probably the only nailed-on starter if fit, so I'll have to plump for him. I'm not even a huge fan of the Northern Irishman, he's quite ungainly and a bit of a liability at times, and yet he's looking likely to be Hearts' first 20-goal season scorer since John Robertson. Football, eh?
Dundee have went five home games without a win at home, only finding the net once and are in a battle to save their Premiership status. Can the Dark Blues end their run of bad form or will Hearts inflict more misery on the home support?
While Dundee are on a terrible run at home, Hearts have been dreadful away from Tynecastle, where they are still undefeated. It's a problem that's been around for over a decade and means you can never be too confident going to watch the team away from home, even when they're good, which this team isn't. This one is a toss up.