At most clubs the position of goalkeeper tends to be the most settled. While there is often competition for the keepers’ jersey, a number one is established and those kept in reserve must wait for injury, suspension, or a lack of form, to get their chance. Not at Hearts.
Since Craig Gordon was made Britain’s most expensive goalkeeper, between the sticks has caused much debate amongst the Hearts support. Steve Banks has always been seen as a reliable pair of hands but the Gorgie faithful have had to put up with a certain element of rotation and some cringe worthy performances from the likes of Anthony Basso and Eduardas Kurskis.
After this season’s opening day win against Motherwell, Banks found himself to be the only change in the starting XI to face Rangers the following week. The arrival of Marian Kello from Kaunas meant, according to the club, that Banks was now to concentrate on his coaching. Scotland under-21 goalkeeper Jamie McDonald made his debut in place of Banks at Ibrox but now the noises coming out of Tynecastle suggest that yet another goalkeeping change is to be made to the line up this week, with Kello set for a debut.
The only chances I have had to see the Slovakian play was in his former club’s two-legged tie against Rangers in the Champions League qualifiers. He didn’t have too much to do but made one or two good saves. One of note came towards the end of the 0-0 draw at Ibrox from a Kenny Miler shot. I hope the Hearts support gets behind him tomorrow and doesn’t boo him just because of his Kaunas connection. If he is poor, then he is poor and we will soon find out but it would be unfair to criticise him before he has even touched the ball.
Fellow new signing David Obua is fit and ready to make his debut. Whether he starts or not is unsure. Able to play left back, in midfield and behind the striker, if he is as good as Csaba Laszlo rates him to be then he should have no problem establishing himself as a first team regular. Lee Wallace has had a poor start to the season, while Ksanavicius has had his good performance for the season. An alternative option would be to drop Kingston, who has been at fault for two goals in as many weeks, move Driver to the Right of midfield and play Obua on the left. With our lack of a goal threat I would prefer him behind Mole in attack, although I admit I have never seen him play.
Neilson, Beslija and Aguiar are all on the road to recovery but this match will come too soon for all of them. Most of these players have been out long-term and are probably still weeks away from first team action. Mike Tullberg, who signed last week and although not fully fit, may find himself on the bench.
As for the visitors, their poor form towards the end of last season has continued into this campaign. They have now gone five matches without a win and have not scored in any of these. Their away form makes for even more worrying reading for their support as they have failed to win away from Love Street in eleven matches. Coincidentally their last away win was a victory at Tynecastle in December of last year, when Stephen McGinn scored the only goal of the game.
The Paisley side will be buoyed by their impressive record against Hearts, especially at Tynecastle, since their promotion two years ago; managing two wins and a draw over this period.
St Mirren welcome back defender Will Haining from suspension after his contentious red card against Celtic on the opening weekend of the season. However, he may have a tough time regaining his place in the side due to Scott Cuthbert’s man of the match performance in his absence during the 0-0 draw at home to Kilmarnock last week. Franco Miranda, one of St Mirren’s better performers last season, picked up a knock in the same match but should recover in time. Craig Dargo has begun training again but looks set to miss out.
The only other injury worry for St Mirren is goalkeeper Chris Smith, although Mark Howard made some excellent saves and kept a clean sheet last week, therefore Smith will not be missed too much.
Against Celtic, St Mirren played a 4-5-1 with Billy Mehmet up top but they reverted to a 4-4-2 in the following Kilmarnock clash. Although they probably won’t show Hearts the same respect as they did Celtic, 4-5-1 will likely be Gus MacPherson’s preferred formation as he attempts to frustrate the home side. He will know that the longer the game stays goalless the more the match could swing in his side’s favour. He has quite a few strikers to choose from but Jim Hamilton’s lack of mobility will probably work against him. Mehmet has similar strength to Hamilton and is usually the manager’s choice when playing a single striker; MacPherson also has new signings Dennis Wyness and Tom Brighton as options.
Despite who leads the line the main threat comes from midfield. Andy Dorman has the ability, and the willingness, to get beyond the forwards and managed five goals for St Mirren between January and the end of last season. A lot of positive things have been said about new signing, and fellow midfielder, Tonet, although he may take time to adapt to the Scottish game.
This should, I stress should, be a home victory on Saturday, despite St Mirren’s record at Tynecastle in recent years. The Paisley club have not made a terrible start to the season – they hit the post against Celtic before conceding a dodgy penalty – but the longer they go without scoring this season, the more the pressure will mount.
One thing lacking at Hearts in recent seasons is a good home record. During the 2005/06 season, and few years previous to that, Hearts had an excellent record at Tynecastle, especially against teams outside the Old Firm. Re-establishing an impressive home record is something I see as a priority for this season after watching many terrible draws and defeats against teams such as Inverness, Falkirk, Kilmarnock and St Mirren.
For me, the first match of the season doesn’t really say too much about where a team is in terms of form, anything can happen. Tomorrow will be the first real test of whether Tynecastle has been restored to the fortress it once was. ‘mon the Hearts!!
Thomson Zaliukas Berra Wallace
Kingston Stewart Palazuelos Driver
Ross Cuthbert Porter Miranda
McGinn Brady Murray Dorman O’Donnell