“Our main priority is to qualify for Europe” – Hearts assistant Gordon Forrest outlines main aims for season ahead

Gordon Forrest met the media at Oriam yesterday and looks ahead to the new campaign. Jamie McIntosh reports.

Photo Credit – Edinburgh Evening News

Hearts host Inverness today in their final Premier Sports Group Stage match. 

The Jambos are top of Group A with nine points after winning their opening three matches and a victory over the Caley Jags at Tynecastle today will see the Edinburgh club seeded for the round of 16 draw which takes place following the conclusion of the match. 

Hearts boss Robbie Neilson has regularly mentioned the importance of building momentum prior to the league opener against Celtic on July 31 and that message was reiterated by one of his assistants, Gordon Forrest.

“We’re in a good position, but it’s important we keep the momentum and clean sheets going,” Forrest said. 

“We’re creating some good chances and scoring goals. The focus is to top the group with three points and goals to finish as one of the seeds.” 

Hearts haven’t conceded a goal yet in the competition and following a 3-0 victory over Cove Rangers, Craig Gordon broke the record for the number of consecutive clean sheets kept by a Hearts goalkeeper, previously held by Jon McLaughlin. 

“It’s great for Craigy,” Forrest said. 

“He’s got that record and wants to keep it going as he keeps telling everyone. It gives confidence and momentum. In training, we’ve done quite a bit of defensive shape and we want to take it into the Premiership season as well.”

The Hearts coaches had to watch Premiership rivals Hibernian and Aberdeen in European action on Thursday night and Forrest explains that has to be the aim for Hearts this season:

“Our main priority is to qualify for Europe, but these games allowed us an earlier look at this different system and different shape. We need to win these cup games. Other teams might use it as pre-season minutes or to test players, but straight from the off, one of our goals is to win all these games. It’s maybe a wee bit lighter, but we want to come out on top.

“It was interesting watching them (Hibs and Motherwell) and we have eyes on our Premiership opposition. For Hearts, and for us as coaches, we want to do our best this season to get there.

“We have a good group and we’ve spoken about what we want to achieve. We have players who have been there before and know what’s expected at Hearts. We sit down regularly to focus on what we’re trying to achieve.”

Hearts have introduced a number of youngsters from the bench in the Premier Sports Cup matches, the most impressive being Finlay Pollock. Just mentioning the name of the 17-year-old brought a smile to Forrest’s face: 

“He’s been brilliant, hasn’t he? He was great in pre-season and he’s a real good role model for our young academy players. He’s been good on the pitch but it’s his enthusiasm, his attitude… He’s a Hearts supporter and wants to do his best for the club.

“He is a young player, and we have to manage his game time. We can’t just keep chucking him in because it won’t do him any good. It’s important we look after him because he is a prospect. He will have ups and downs but he’s doing great just now.

“When we first came in, there were names chucked at us and he was one to keep an eye on. He is enjoying himself, he’s enthusiastic and very fit. He is a key role model because he listens and wants to learn. It’s no real surprise.”

Harry Cochrane broke into the Hearts team as a 16-year-old and for whatever reason completely fell out of favour – Forrest is keen to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen with Pollock:

“With all young players, you’ve got to be wary. You’ve named a different name there but across the board you look at these players individually – knowing what makes them tick and what we need to do to protect them a bit.

“Finlay is a separate person so we work with him. Young players are on a performance and development plan, so he has his own programme to suit him. He can focus on his technical and tactical side, but also the physical and mental side as well.

“How does he deal with press? How does he deal with pressures? How does he deal with certain games? He is on his own plan and it’s up to us to manage that. He’s certainly got the attitude, enthusiasm and commitment to do what he wants, really. It’s up to him.

“He’ll have games where he isn’t performing as well, there will be training sessions where he isn’t training as well, there will be senior players getting on at him and coaches getting on at him. But Finlay is a good lad who is certainly grounded. I think he will stay that way.”

The original plan was for Pollock to go out on loan for the season. However, having impressed when featuring this season, the coaching staff are having second thoughts about their original plan. 

“We’ve still got to look at that. He’s done well, as have others. Scott McGill just went out on loan to Airdrie, Connor Smith is in the mix, as is Leo Watson. A few showed up well in pre-season, now we’ll see how the season starts. Possibly there will be players coming in and then we will review what’s best for the young players. They need to play games at some point.”

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