Outfought & Out-thought - Tactical look at the away performances against Dunfermline & Dundee
Updated: Feb 13
By @_MaroonReport & @TheOldCastleRo1
It took just 48 seconds of viewing Dundee v Hearts to release a familiar sinking feeling in the
pit of many a Hearts supporters’ stomach. Jack Byrne slammed into a tackle with Steven
Naismith with such ferocity it felt like the veteran striker’s limbs may have been ripped off in
the process. The referee only issuing a yellow card enraged ire with players and supporters,
with many feeling it would have been a different outcome had it not taken place in the first
minute of the match.
What was more worrying was the Hearts players reaction to this perceived injustice. It had
eerie similarities with the crunching tackles dished out by Dunfermline in the 2-1 defeat
earlier in the season. Hearts began that game looking like shell-shocked soldiers caught in no
man’s land on the battlefield. The alarming collapse from both matches is looked at below in
The Maroon Report’s Tactical Viewpoint - Dunfermline:
In the first phase of build-up play, Gordon frequently distributed short to the central
defenders. Halkett was the main man tasked with bringing the ball out from the back. The
Fifers used zonal marking in a 4-5-1 formation. Most importantly, was Dunfermline using
their ‘reference point’ as the opponent. The players worked together to stay a certain
distance from the Jambos and suffocate any build up play.
Halkett’s limited ability with the ball regularly resulted in a total breakdown of
progressing the ball into the 2nd and 3rd phase of place. Instead, Hearts resorted to long
vertical passes to Boyce or Wighton, resulting in immediate loss of possession.
Dunfermline left Halliday and Lee free, who were dropping deeper. They also left Kingsley
and Smith free initially, however this was used as ‘bait’. Passes out to them by Hearts
were triggers for the Pars who swiftly advanced and closed down passing options.
Hearts failed to change radically, bringing Frear on for Walker. It took the second sub to
see a change in system. This change initiated an unbalanced midfield in a 4-4-2 formation.
Irving was then forced to drop deeper and was subject to the same pressure that Halliday
and Lee had faced earlier, this time with less forward passing options.
After a positive reaction to the Dunfermline defeat, Hearts had managed to put a few wins
on the board. Next, they faced Dundee, who had themselves enjoyed a recent upturn in
form. Hearts lined up with no wingers, despite having three on the bench. With Walker,
Naismith and Lee chosen to offer supporting attacking roles, it highlighted an alarming lack
of pace in the starting XI. Fans wondered would it be the same outcome as Dunfermline
again? The Maroon Report offers typical superb analysis of how game played out below:
The Maroon Report’s Tactical Viewpoint - Dundee:
“Dundee created numerical superiority in various areas of the pitch. McPake put in
Mcghee & amp; Byrne - who did the leg work - freeing up Adam who exploited the left half-
space when in possession.”
“Their left back (Jordan Marshall) pushed high and wide, offering crucial width and
occupying Jamie Brandon.”
Dundee had left Hearts with a bloody nose after the opening quarter of the game. McGhee’s
goal had been coming since the bruiser from Byrne inside the opening minute. They doubled
their advantage on 36 minutes, with Danny Mullin heading in from close range again,
following excellent work from Adam. Maroon Report: “As Hearts more experienced
performers, Naismith/Lee in the defensive organisation didn't track or weren’t close
enough to Adam, which appeared to be their instructions without the ball.”
Any Hearts fan would have been able to deduce that something needed changing for the
Jambos. Major changes were not forthcoming, aside from the introduction of Andy Irving.
Maroon Report stated: “It’s worth noting Neilson did nothing to react to this. He simply
went like for like with Irving coming on at half time. Systematically Hearts only changed
when he brought Henderson on, and it felt like a spur of the moment decision rather than
a proactive offensive one.”
Irving did at least add a greater level of control to the game for Hearts. He came on and
found pockets of space, whilst harrying Adam in a way the Hearts side failed to do in the
first half. They engaged in a fascinating battle in the second half for control of the midfield.
Irving cemented his positive contribution with a curved free kick that evaded everyone into
the back of the net. However, the overall team play and fight was lacking, and they paid the
price when Christophe Berra conceded a penalty in the final 10 minutes, with Jonathan
The post-match comments against Don Robertson from Neilson did little to dissuade the
simmering anger from Jambos. Hearts had been outfought and outthought for the second
‘major’ away match this season. With four out of five of the next league fixtures coming
away from home, they should use these defeats as springboards to bounce back and pick up
vital points on the road.