The Hearts team which takes the field against Livingston tomorrow will bear little resemblance to that which succumbed to a 4-1 Petrofac Cup defeat at Almondvale last month.
Captain Danny Wilson can recall last season’s manager Gary Locke struggling to cobble together one team as the effects of administration and a signing embargo hit hard at Tynecastle. Now, Locke’s successor Robbie Neilson can name different sides for different competitions if he so wishes after a summer recruitment drive.
He chose to promote several recent youth academy graduates to the first-team squad for that previous match with Livingston. Although they were well beaten on the night, Neilson argued that they would learn from the experience in a tournament which was not high on his priority list this season.
Now it’s back to the real business of winning league points, so Neilson will select his strongest available side tomorrow in front of the BBC Alba cameras.
That means an entirely different starting line-up to that which lost in West Lothian, with James Keatings possibly the only survivor.
“Last season we struggled to put out one team, so it does show we’ve got strength in depth,” said Wilson. “I know a lot of the fans maybe didn’t approve of the team selection when we played them last time, but you need to remember that we have got a big squad and they all deserve their opportunity.
“Livingston will have good memories from the last time we played, but it will be a different team that they’re coming up against at a different venue. I’ve no doubt Tynecastle will be full yet again, so it will be a different game altogether.”
Hearts suffered another cup loss just three days ago when Celtic knocked them out of the League Cup with a 3-0 win at Celtic Park.
Wilson stressed he and his colleagues do not intend to dwell on that result for the same reasons the Livingston defeat was not deemed any huge disaster last month. Quite simply, the league is the priority.
That said, the former Rangers and Liverpool defender admitted losing in Glasgow was a wake-up call.
“Wednesday night showed we’re not there yet,” he said. “It’s maybe not a bad thing. It shows we’ve still got a lot of work to do and keeps us all grounded. If we want to aspire to be one of the best teams in the country we’ve got a lot of work to put in.
“The gaffer has spoken to us about it and given us his thoughts, but as soon as we left that changing room on Wednesday night that was it – it was done. There was nothing we could affect. We’ve started preparing for Sunday and we move on.”
Wilson will encounter the man who initially brought him to Hearts tomorrow – Livingston manager John McGlynn. “I came here on loan initially, and I only had the chance to work with him for four or five weeks before he moved on. He’s a really nice man and I appreciate him giving me the opportunity to come to Hearts. It’s no surprise to me that Livingston have been doing well, because when he was here he was thorough in everything he did.”
Hearts will open up a six-point lead over Rangers if they win tomorrow and would then look to city rivals Hibs for a favour when they travel to Ibrox on Monday night.
“If we win on Sunday it takes us three points closer to our aim, and that’s all we’re really thinking about. If Hibs are able to do us a favour on Monday, then great, because it’ll open up a bigger gap,” said Wilson.
“We’re not the only ones at the top of the league. Rangers are a couple of points behind us and Raith Rovers have started really well, so it is tight at the top. Any advantage you could get early on would be great, but it’s not about where we are just now. It’s about where we are at the end of the season.”
Hibs’ start to the campaign has been unconvincing as two wins from their opening six league games leaves them seventh in the table. No-one at Tynecastle is writing them off, however. “They had a good win midweek [against Ross County in the League Cup] and that might be the springboard they need to get their season back on track,” said Wilson.
“I’ve seen a couple of Hibs’ games and they’re not a million miles away. They just need a wee chance to go in here or there. But I’m not really focused on Hibs. I’m more focused on Hearts and currently we’re at the top and that’s where we’d like to stay. It’s going to be difficult. We’re at the top and we’re there to be shot at. That’s just something we’ll have to deal with, and it’s a challenge we’re all looking forward to.”