It's becoming a running joke within the Heart of Midlothian support. Do something else between 3pm and 4pm. Stay in the pub, take care of some life admin, keep your streak going on Duolingo. But when the men in maroon run out for the second half, drop everything you are doing and pay attention.

It's the second half. Hearts are about to do something special.

Steven Naismith's men have taken the Premiership by storm these last few months. If you were to take the form guide from the last 10 games, no side in the top 15 leagues in world football has taken more points than the team's 28. Extrapolate to include all top-flight leagues worldwide, only four have earned more points than the Maroons (VPS of Finland, Welsh outfit TNS, Saudi giants Al-Hilal and Faroese side Vikingur).

Remarkably, in that time Hearts have scored just three of their 20 goals in the first half. They haven't netted in the league before the interval since before Christmas. In terms of the whole season, 74 per cent of the team's goals have been scored in the second half. Yet, it's not the biggest share. Ross County have netted 75 per cent after the break.

READ MORE: Hearts tactics: Steven Naismith on formation, pressing, set pieces and deep defences

Therefore, Hearts are a second-half team, aren't they?

Yes and no. 

Saturday's win over Motherwell was the perfect example. Hearts controlled the first 45 minutes by dominating possession and keeping the opposition at arm's length. Although, it is not as if the Steelmen were putting up much of a fight against the arm. Then after the break with some tweaks and use of the strong squad, Naismith made decisive and incisive calls that helped turn a draw into a deserved three points.

Speaking to Hearts Standard last month about the contrast between the home and away form, Naismith talked about them being "two different games". The same could be said for the first and second halves of matches.

The change and difference can be seen through the team's attacking output.

The graph below demonstrates when Hearts are creating chances, and what kind of chances, compared to the opposition over the course of a game. The blue line is the opposition and Hearts the red line. Naismith's men are dominating games, in terms of quality of chance creation, for the majority of the second half. 

Below is a map of all Hearts' efforts in the Premiership. We can see there have been 33 goals from 353 shots with a further two penalties from five efforts. The xG per shot value - excluding own goals and penalties - is 0.079. Essentially it measures the likelihood of a goal. The closer to 1.000, the better.

Now take a look at first-half efforts. Nine goals from 143 shots and an xG/shot value of 0.066

Let's move on to the second half. We can see the shots (210), goals (24) and xG per shot value (0.088) all increase substantially. 


In short, Hearts create more and better chances after the break. It could be said it is pretty natural as the game state changes in the second half when a goal is scored. You can also factor in fatigue and the game opening up with more space. But it is quite the shift.

It is not to suggest Hearts have been poor in the first 45 minutes of matches. They are just more of an attacking threat after the interval. There is a strategy at play. And an effective one at that.

"The main thing is feeling teams out," Naismith explained after the recent win over St Johnstone in Perth. "The amount of games where we have come up against teams that do sit in and try to counter us, it’s hard. When you rush it and you start to panic, that’s when you cause yourself problems. We are good at working out, and we have been good at working out what’s working and what’s not."

This Hearts team are like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, "testing the fences for weaknesses systematically". The first half has been about probing and figuring out the opposition, gaining control, wearing them down. Motherwell's Paul McGinn said opponents have to give Hearts respect because if you are too open "you could lose it straight away". Naismith has constantly preached patience, not wanting his players to fall into the traps of being led by the crowd, rushed and stressed, leading to poor decision-making. 

Over the course of the season, Hearts have averaged more possession in the first half than the second half of games. It has been more pronounced recently which is a positive. Earlier in the campaign the team's possession share grew but it came in games like Motherwell and Kilmarnock at Tynecastle where the team dropped points. Now, that first-half control sets the team up to strike at the weaknesses of the opposition as they begin to tire or open up ever so slightly.

Within it all, the Hearts head coach is problem-solving.

Some may view it as Naismith getting his team wrong from the start. There have been times this season when that has been the case but in the main, he has sent a team out to gain control of a match before utilising a strong squad. He's not keen to name the same XI twice and has clearly got buy-in from the players as he continually stresses that just because a player might not start for a couple of weeks there will come a time when he is required to start games. In turn, it has kept players fresh, namely those who come on in the final third and can inject pace and intensity into the team.

Take Kenneth Vargas for example. Only Mike Biereth, who was on loan at Motherwell in the first half of the season, has made more goal contributions from the bench.

Naismith has proven himself to be one of, if not the best in-game managers in the league. It is a huge attribute for any coach to have, let alone one in his first spell as the head coach of a first team. The ability to analyse a game in the heat of the moment from the sidelines is not easy. He also gets a kick out of being able to predict the flow of a game.

READ MORE: What Hearts fans learned from the management team presentation

Naismith credits learning under the likes of Steve Clarke at Scotland and Walter Smith at Rangers, as well as his dyslexia, in helping him with those aspects of management.

"I try to give the players a picture of how the game is going to go," he told Hearts Standard. "Best manager ever at it, Walter Smith. He could tell you before the game ‘this will happen, this will happen then this will happen’. You were blown away. You’d go home thinking ‘how did he know that?!’ I try to do that. I get a buzz when it plays out like that. I think a part of that is the way my brain is, dyslexia helps, the creativity side, the seeing things happen."

Naismith is proactive, not scared to change personnel or system. He is unlike some managers whose substitutions are like clockwork. 

A penny for the thoughts of the shareholder who questioned Naismith's ability to change a game at the AGM. There are various examples of a change having a hugely positive impact on the outcome of a match, going all the way back to the opening game of the season when the introduction of Alex Lowry provided Hearts with more incision in the final third.

It was not the only time Lowry impacted the game off the bench. He was brought on late in the League Cup win over Kilmarnock, scoring the winning goal in stoppage time. Before then Naismith had switched to a back three to deal with Killie's aerial threat as, bringing Odel Offiah on for Alan Forrest, as they pushed for a winner.

In Dingwall a few days later, Forrest and Lowry replaced Offiah and Aidan Denholm. The latter duo looked uncomfortable in their wing-back and advanced midfield roles (perhaps an example of the wrong personnel in the system from the start). The replacements combined for the winning goal as they added more penetration.

In the important win over Motherwell at Fir Park in November, Naismith made what on paper looked like a defensive sub when Toby Sibbick replaced Forrest at wing-back. What it did was shut down the Steelmen's advances down the left and ensured Hearts regained control of the match following an impressive showing in the first half.

For the win over Livingston at Tynecastle Park, Naismith made a key half-time change, bringing on the more creative Jorge Grant for Cammy Devlin with the home team dominating possession. Vargas would score the winner from the bench. The victory over Dundee in EH11 was brought about by a change in formation and then the introduction of Macaulay Tait. There was a double change at home to Ross County after a poor first half. Hearts should have had the opportunity to go ahead when Alan Forrest, one of the subs, was brought down in the box. It was later found the referee had made a mistake in booking the player for an alleged dive.

Sometimes the changes have been more subtle, even when the team have been leading. The 2-0 win over St Mirren, for example. The Buddies had been difficult opponents in the first half but a change of shape helped Hearts step up a gear. Away to Livingston, there were no subs or formation tweaks, the team were just less direct. At home to Aberdeen, the team was second best in the first half. They tweaked the tempo and were quicker to loose or second balls.

Now it would be wrong to say everything worked. In the loss at Aberdeen, could the team have done with a switch in system when the game was getting away from them? Were the right subs made in the draw at home to Hibs? Naismith has spoken of potentially doing things differently in the defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, something he learned by the time the team won at Celtic Park.

Hearts return to Ibrox on Saturday and they are in a much better place than they were back in October. They are a stronger squad with a stronger mentality and more in tune with what is required of them. They have a manager who has grown through experience. In turn, there will be no fear or apprehension and they won't be overwhelmed.

Some may view it as a key test of this Rangers side's minerals in the Premiership title fight. Who cares about that? It is the latest test of a Hearts side charting in only one direction. They have the capacity to frustrate the home crowd in the first half before doing something special after the interval.