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Hearts Preview: Milan, Madrid, Now Spurs Are Off To Tynecastle!

As Luka Modric took to the pitch in our pre-season friendly against Athletic Bilbao, he was perhaps a little surprised at the rapturous applause that broke out around the ground after his summer of discontent. It was clear for all to see, and hear, that Modric still has a place in the hearts of theWhite Hart Lanefaithful. If this perhaps buoyed him, a trip to Tynecastle for a Europa League play off may not be the helpful reminder of the destinations the club will be travelling to this season.

OK, so we started against Young Boys (still makes me snigger like a child) in last season’s UEFA Champions League, hardly Europe’s elite. However, trips to Milan and Madrid, among others, whet the appetite. Now we are off to Tynecastle.

Of most interest to Spurs fans will be the team that Harry puts out. Ask any fan before the start of the season and most expect the Europa League games to see fringe players getting a run out as well as the promising youngsters. I am no different yet, with Everton postponed at the weekend, I suspect Harry’s view of the game has also changed. It has suddenly become more than a qualifier for the much maligned Europa League, it is about getting fitness into the legs of the players. As Manchester United away is on the Monday, Harry is likely to name a strong team.

Harry also has a few of key decisions to make. With Brad Friedel now at the Lane, Gomes has a genuine challenger for his starting spot in the team. I think Gomes will remain as number 1 for the season but he will be aware that Friedel could take over at any point. Right back is also up for grabs and I genuinely hope, especially for this game, he goes with Kyle Walker.Walkerwas fantastic at Aston Villa last season and must have been disappointed thatEnglandv theNetherlandsdid not take place as he would have surely earned his first cap. I do however, suspect Vedran Corluka will get the nod at Manchester United. I didn’t mention Alan Hutton as I think, if desperate, Harry would give me a call rather than play the Scotsman.

Perhaps the biggest dilemma is up front. We all recognise a new striker is needed, I think we also recognised this early August …. August 2010. Yet, as the window draws closer, there are no new faces in the squad and worrying links to the likes of Peter Odemwingie. The problem I think Harry has … goes by the name of Rafael van der Vaart. A fit Rafa must be a starter but that disrupts the big man/little man combination and the favoured 4-4-2. So it is a 4-4-1-1. I don’t think Pav’s heart is in it, Defoe is unlikely to work with Rafa just off him, which leaves us with a man that has scored around a goal every four games. Hardly earth shattering. Crouch can bring out the best in Rafa, but he isn’t going to be the potent threat in front of goal you need. He is not going to nick goals in tight games consistently. Defoe has looked sharp, and crucially, fit, in pre-season but Hearts have struggled recently against big men. Indeed, a Hearts season ticket holder said to me today they had left a player free for a header in the box in each of their last four games and are vulnerable. I am sure Harry and his scouting team would have picked up on that.

In terms of Hearts, there isn’t much to say. The more dedicated Spurs fans will remember John Sutton from the Spurs youth team. Southampton fans (who of course, read will remember Rudi Skacel. A player that had a record of pretty much one goal every other game in the SPL, which translated to one in every sixteen in England. That says a lot for me. I am rarely so dismissive of a team, I love football because it can be unpredictable, but I feel the SPL is so poor that Hearts should be rolled over with relative ease. However, I also expected us to beatWiganat home and West Ham away when both were bottom and without a win last year.

BBC Five Live, advertising their commentary of Hearts v Spurs, talked of Tynecastle being atmospheric. I think it will be a fantastic occasion where a strong Spurs team send the 1,200 travelling fans away happy. Certainly, with my little 220 mile round trip, I expect to drive home happy!

Finally, I hope there is a 76 year old former Hearts and Tottenham player in the crowd on Thursday. I say Tottenham player, though that does this man a disservice, it should be Tottenham legend. I certainly don’t remember this man playing but his record shines out above many. Dave MacKay was a key part of our 1961 double winners and we have probably not seen a man of his stature at the lane since. It is easy to forget these players as time goes by, but, if you have the time, just Google him and sit back and marvel at a superstar. I do wonder who he would want to win … Hearts I suspect … but I won’t hold it against him!

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  1. Alee

    August 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Well done to Gareth Johnson for writing such a good article….

    And thank you ‘Rob’ for cutting and pasting this article from

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  3. Alee

    August 18, 2011 at 1:20 am

    … and now you’ve added “submitted by” after my first comment. Good lad.

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