Robbie Neilson was a delighted man as a tactical switch proved crucial in today’s hard-fought win against Ross County in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Goals from Osman Sow and Alim Ozturk inside the first fifteen minutes of the game were the difference, with the Swedish striker finding himself deployed in a right midfield position.
The ex-Crystal Palace man opened the scoring after devastating his marker with his pace, cutting inside onto his left foot and firing home a wonderful effort from distance in off the post.
Four minutes later, it was two. Jamie Walker’s corner found the stampeding Callum Paterson running into the box late, the right back hammering in a volley that Ozturk deflected in on the goal-line to send the 1,300 Hearts fans wild behind the goal.
County reduced the deficit with a Liam Boyce penalty after referee Bobby Madden adjudged Igor Rossi to have fouled the Northern Irish forward, but despite some frantic moments towards the end of the match, the Jambos rearguard held firm.
After the match, the head coach revealed the thinking behind the tactical ploy that saw Sow trade places with Jamie Walker in a solid 4-4-1-1 formation.
“We switched Osman and Jamie today because we felt Osman’s pace could hurt County on the wing, which proved to be effective quickly after the first goal,” explained Neilson. “We worked on the shape in training so it was obviously pleasing to pay off.
“The second was a set piece that we’ve been trying out for a while in training, and I thought we were superb in the first half hour which won us the game. The rest of the match was game management and seeing it out.”
Jordan McGhee found himself deployed in a midfield role again after Prince Buaben was withdrawn following a terrifically hard-working shift, and Robbie admitted that the lack of pre-season was starting to show towards the end of the game.
Ever the defender at heart, the former Scotland right-back singled the defence out for acclaim, as the defence that looked slightly at-sea during the league opener get more impressive as the weeks go on.
“A lot of the players were very tired towards the end, we’ve had a hard week with 3 games, and we only had two days preparation before this game then we stayed over last night.
“I could go through every player, they all played their part, but Neil Alexander made a top save early on and set us up. I think the defensive players tend to get overlooked a bit because of our attacking nature, the forwards get their pictures in the papers but everyone’s here to do a job.
“You can’t win a game without everybody playing well and I thought County never created any clear chances after we took the lead. Defensively, we were solid and sound and never looked too troubled.”
Lastly, Neilson was refusing to get carried away despite the Jambos maintaining their 100% record this season, stating that once Hearts had played every side in the league, he would then be able to assess the Scottish Championship winners’ progress.
“It’s only four games in, we’re yet to play Aberdeen or Celtic or Dundee United, once we’ve played a full round of fixtures we’ll assess where we are. For now, we’re focusing on Partick Thistle next weekend.”