‘MES­SIAH’ OF­FERS UP MIR­A­CLE CURE

But is MacPhee a long-term saviour at Hearts?

Scottish Daily Mail - - The Verdict -

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

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