‘MESSIAH’ OFFERS UP MIRACLE CURE
But is MacPhee a long-term saviour at Hearts?
TO many in the game, it will sound like nothing short of outright heresy. Austin MacPhee, the Messiah? Nah mate, he just looks a bit like him, that’s all.
It’s hard to shift the suspicion that the interim head coach of hearts — most definitely pitching hard to land either that job or the sporting director’s role on a more permanent footing — possesses more style than substance.
his past association with Ian Cathro, the original over-promoted guru, doesn’t help.
But just pause for a second to consider this. the beautiful game is peppered with outlandish characters who seem to expend a disproportionate effort reminding everyone of their genius.
Isn’t there a chance that MacPhee is both a shameless self-publicist... and a decent coach? Maybe not to everyone’s tastes but able to get results?
having turned an ailing team into a free-scoring one on Saturday, he at least produced a bit of pop and zing to make himself stand out from the pile of CVs currently crowding Ann Budge’s desk.
And, if it’s a genuine saviour the owner is looking for, does MacPhee’s ability to heal the sick come into play?
‘Pick up your mat and walk,’ he ordered Jake Mulraney, with half an hour of this romp against St Mirren still to play.
the Irish winger probably dared not disobey. Never mind that he was supposed to be out with ankle ligament damage for another three weeks.
When called forward by his lord and master, Mulraney didn’t hesitate. And was rewarded with a wonder goal, putting the finishing touch on a 5-2 triumph.
Surrounded by the halo of victory, MacPhee was almost hilariously obvious about his hopes and ambitions afterwards.
he had all the key stats to hand; a first home win since March, the club’s first five-goal showing since Moses was a laddie. And he twice reinforced the fact that his record as interim boss — four wins from five, with Rangers at hampden the previous Sunday the only loss — surely puts him in the conversation as successor to Craig Levein.
Never mind that he was his assistant. And therefore part of a management team responsible for the turgid funk into which hearts had been plunged.
All that can now be forgotten, courtesy of Saturday’s triumph — the inevitable result of giving MacPhee a week to take his players on retreat to St Andrews.
Asked how much credit MacPhee deserved for a performance best described as raggedly rampant, Mulraney said: ‘he’s helped us a lot this week. the boys enjoy working with him. he always has a tempo to training. he’s enthusiastic, has a lot of passion and a good football brain.
‘I’m sure the boys would be happy if he got it (the job).’ Pressed to explain the difference made by MacPhee stepping up from assistant to planning every session, Mulraney said: ‘It was a bit more structured. We knew what we had to do, we worked on it the whole week, had loads of meetings and were clear on what we had to do. ‘that has been the case, in ways. But, as opposed to doing it two days, three days, we’re doing it seven days. Going away was definitely good.’ Something clearly clicked over the course of the week. Although anyone who says the return to full fitness of Steven Naismith wasn’t the biggest factor deserves to be burned at the stake for idiocy. Naismith scored after just six minutes, then spent a good 30 seconds actively reshaping the team, dropping back to give club captain Christophe Berra some specific, slightly angry instructions on where he should be positioned to cope with St Mirren. It didn’t work perfectly, Jon Obika equalising on 21 minutes.
hearts regained the lead on the half-hour mark. Deployed on the right wing in a masterstroke that MacPhee wasn’t slow in referencing afterwards, Uche Ikpeazu pounced on some hesitancy by Kirk Broadfoot, his shot finding the net via St Mirren’s Sean McLoughlin.
But a mad decision by Berra to leave a long ball allowed Danny Mullen to run in one-on-one and beat Joel Pereira to make it 2-2 three minutes later.
the hosts reclaimed the lead just before the break, Ollie Bozanic getting on the end of Michael Smith’s excellent chipped cross.
A Jamie Walker goal a minute after half-time saw hearts pull further clear, before Mulraney showed quick feet and outrageous power to send a screamer flying beyond Vaclav hladky.
the former Inverness player had been ruled out for six weeks less than three weeks ago. how could he possibly even be back in training, never mind scoring worldies?
‘I’m back a couple of weeks early,’ he smiled. ‘I’m still in a bit of pain, so I had to take some tablets before going on. But it’s not too bad.
‘the ligaments are all right now. It’s just about building strength and getting through a bit of pain. the goal is better than a painkiller.’
Maybe it was the adrenalin still firing through his system but, for Mulraney, MacPhee’s talk of finishing third in the Premiership didn’t seem remotely outrageous.
‘We should be aiming for the europa League,’ he said. ‘We have the quality to do it.’
It still seems a long shot, regardless of who gets the job. As for whether MacPhee is likely to be run out of the race by a rush of quality candidates? that’s a possibility. Maybe even a probability.
Yet sometimes the footballing gods just smile upon a guy, presenting him with the perfect set of circumstances. It can’t happen, can it? Oh ye of little faith.
Healing hands: MacPhee instructs from the touchline during Hearts’ impressive victory and (inset) veteran Naismith opens the scoring