Hearts full-back reveals talks that have led to defensive improvement

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Hearts right-back Michael Smith has revealed a group discussion has led to key tactical improvements in defence.

Much has been made of manager Daniel Stendel recently using unconventional methods involving rope and goggles on the training pitch to try and cure his team’s costly propensity for conceding cheap goals.

However, Northern Ireland cap Smith insists there was a collective recognition that Stendel’s preferred high-press needed reining in.

That has resulted in two of their biggest wins of the season, beating Rangers to reach the Scottish Cup semi-finals last weekend before boosting their Premiership survival hopes with a memorable 3-1 win at rivals Hibs on Tuesday.

In their last five league games prior to the trip to Easter Road, Hearts had conceded some 15 goals.

However, Smith insists a more conservative approach to defending is paying off.

Speaking ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Motherwell, he said: “As a group we had a little chat. 

“We felt a bit open and a bit vulnerable at the back and we’ve solidified. 

“I’ve dropped back into right back and feel a little bit more comfortable and I’ve helped the lads, using my experience.

“We’ve had lots of meetings as defensive units and stuff like that and I think overall we’ve come to the decision that it is right to solidify ourselves and let the front six do the work.

“As a full back I’ll get forward but only at the right times, as a team we’ll be solid and only press at the right times. 

“We’ll still do the high press but only at the right times when everything is set up right. 

“I feel a lot more solid and speaking to Clevid (Dikamona) and Halks (Craig Halkett), they feel a lot more solid. 

“As a team and a squad of players we probably took the high press a bit too literally and we were just bombing forward at every chance, trying to get the ball.

“But it’s not like that. We’ve steadied the ship now and conceded one goal in the last two against two very good teams and we feel a lot more solid and we can definitely work from that base.”

Goggles

While the use of goggles, which was apparently meant to improve the players’ peripheral vision, and rope raised eye brows, Smith insists it was a worthwhile exercise.

He added: “It definitely helps. I have seen the rope thing happen loads of times before, at different clubs and with different managers. 

“Maybe it’s not the actually training that helps but the camaraderie and things like that that help that little bit extra. 

“It was a great laugh at the time. It was the centre-halves who were wearing them (the goggles) and it was so funny because Clevid missed the ball at one point.

“I know there was a lot of social media about it and people talking about the goggles and the rope but, no, it has definitely helped us in the last two games.”

Ibrox shock 

Hearts returned to the bottom of the table on Wednesday after Hamilton picked up a historic victory at Rangers and Smith admits that result brought the team crashing back down to earth following the high of Easter Road.

He added: “It wasn’t great. I thought, or hoped, that Rangers would do us a turn but fair play to Hamilton. 

“They have shown for a few years now that they are definitely up for a fight so it will be interesting to see what happens. 

“But we have shown now that we are also up for a fight so we are looking forward to the games coming up.”