What a relief to finally get the monkey off our backs regarding our difficulties away from home.
It’s been well documented that we haven’t won away since February, so Saturday’s win over Dunfermline now allows the players to erase that from their minds. It wasn’t the most exhilarating of matches but the way the league is shaping up, it is massively important to keep picking up points and we’ve now got back-to-back wins under our belts for the first time in a while.
It was a game we were expected to win and that brings a lot of pressure, especially considering we were also expected to win at St Johnstone and Ayr recently and we failed to do so. That win will do wonders for the whole squad.
The return of Marian Kello was a welcome bonus as well. Jamie MacDonald’s done really well and I have great admiration for him, but Marian is an experienced keeper so we’ve got to be happy to have him back. Rudi Skacel also seems to be finding his best form again. He’s an experienced player and he thrives on getting goals. Two goals in back-to-back games will do him the world of good.
The manager seems to have a very strong idea of his strongest starting XI and it’s not too dissimilar to the one that prospered under Jim Jefferies around this time last year in the sense that experience is being very much favoured over youth. It seems Paulo wants to stick with the tried and tested, with David Templeton being the only real young player in the side and, at the moment, it’s working well. The fact so many of these players – the likes of Kello, Zaliukas, Mrowiec, Black, Skacel and Templeton – were also mainstays of the team that went on that brilliant run around this time last year has got to stand them in good stead as they strive to do something similar this time round. They will have gained some valuable experience from that period when they briefly challenged the Old Firm.
The Old Firm will always drop points but Celtic are doing it regularly enough to suggest there’s a real fragility about them. Even Rangers are showing signs that they can be vulnerable after drawing at home to St Mirren. Normally you’d expect them to see out games like that. You want to just hang in there and try to get a run of form and see where it takes us.
We shouldn’t get too caught up in looking at what other teams around us are doing – we’ve just got to make sure we are consistently taking care of ourselves and see where it takes us. We’re not the only ones who have a chance of putting a wee bit of pressure on the Old Firm in the coming weeks.
Last year we were the only ones who gave them any sort of challenge, but this year Motherwell, incredibly, are up there in second and St Johnstone are level on points with ourselves, just a point behind Celtic. It’s really impressive that teams like Motherwell and Saints are up there putting pressure on because we’re almost a quarter of the way into the season, so it’s not like we are only a couple of games into the campaign. The league table is beginning to take shape and these teams are up there on merit.
What Motherwell are achieving surely has to inspire Hearts. We’ve got to be thinking ‘if Motherwell are up there in second, why can’t we be?’
Having drawn with Rangers and beaten Celtic already this season, we can now go into next Sunday’s game at home to Rangers with the knowledge that, on our day, we are more than a match for anyone in the league. I’m sure our scout, John Harvey, will have watched Rangers on Saturday and will be telling the management that there are ways we can cause them problems like we did against Celtic. We have to a have a go at them and look to be trying to win the game but if we end up with a point, that’s still all well and good.
Club must let refs row go
After watching the Wales-France semi-final in the Rugby World Cup, it was interesting to note that a contentious decision had a big bearing on the outcome. Surely that should highlight to football people once and for all, that ropey calls from officials are just part and parcel of all sports at all levels in all countries. With this in mind, it’s time Hearts took a step back and stopped this regular condemning of officials. We all know that some officials are better than others and, yes, mistakes are made that alter games, but I don’t think constantly having a go at the officials is going to do the club any favours in the long run. It won’t benefit us financially and it won’t help us in the way that we’re perceived by officialdom. Let’s just accept that mistakes will continue to be made, but, as the Welsh found to their cost on Saturday, Heart of Midlothian are certainly not the only club in the world who are on the receiving end. It’s time to move on and put this argument about what happened at Ayr to bed.