Stevie Crawford is appealing for patience from Hearts fans tomorrow as the Edinburgh club aim to open a six-point gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Livingston are the visitors to Tynecastle and Crawford, Hearts’ assistant coach, warned that the match will not be the formality some might expect for the unbeaten league leaders.
Seventeen goals in six league games indicates the firepower available to head coach Robbie Neilson. A home win tomorrow could create a six-point chasm at the top of the table, depending on Raith Rovers’ result against Falkirk at Stark’s Park. They sit in third place, four points behind Hearts, with Rangers second and three points behind. The Glasgow club face Hibs at Ibrox on Monday night.
Crawford is pleased with the momentum built up by Hearts in league fixtures so far but cautioned that Livingston should not be considered a straightforward opponent. They beat the Tynecastle side 4-1 at Almondvale in the Petrofac Training Cup last month, albeit Hearts fielded a team mainly of fringe players and teenagers that night.
The assistant coach explained that fans may need to be patient at home matches as Hearts try to break down opposing teams. “We went to Raith and scored quite early in that game, then Raith had to come out,” said Crawford.
“We got the first goal against Cowdenbeath last week but they equalised and made it difficult in the first half. The pleasing thing for Robbie is the response he got at the start of the second half. Sunday might be different. Patience might be the key if we wait 60 or 70 minutes to get ahead. We’ve not come up against that apart from the Hibs game, and we were really patient then. It took a wonder goal from Sam [Nicholson] to put us ahead in that game.
“If the fans start getting a wee bit edgy because they want us to get ahead early in games, there are no easy games in this league and we will give Livingston every respect.
“With our game at Dumbarton, and then Rangers at Alloa last week, there are no easy games. Teams won’t hand you points on a plate. Dumbarton were very deserving of the point they got against us. Just because we’re a bigger club in Scotland, you’re not guaranteed to go to places and pick up three points. We could have been more patient on the day, but hopefully the boys have learned something from Wednesday and against Dumbarton.”
On Wednesday, Celtic dumped Hearts out of the League Cup with a 3-0 win at Parkhead. Striker Osman Sow missed a penalty with the score at 1-0 but Crawford reiterated that he and Neilson have put promotion before cup success this season.
“With the way we started the season, there was an expectancy there for us to go to Celtic Park and have a chance of winning the game,” continued Crawford. “That can only be a good thing.
“The players and staff are disappointed we didn’t take anything from the game. Does it hinge on Os missing the penalty? I think it’s a bit unfair to say if Os scores the penalty that we go on and win the game. Hopefully we’ll learn. Good players do want to learn from games and they’ll learn from the stuff they experienced the other night.
“Robbie has not hidden the fact that our focus is the Championship. It’s not to say that we took our eye off the ball with the way we prepared for the Celtic game. There is no point in dwelling, it’s Livingston at the weekend.”
Hearts’ preparations for tomorrow began even before the cup tie with Celtic. “Myself and Robbie were at Pittodrie on Tuesday night and, for an hour, Livingston were very good. It ended up 4-0 but Livingston gave a good account of themselves,” explained Crawford.
“I know John McGlynn and Burchy [Mark Burchill, Livingston’s assistant manager] will have them very well prepared for coming to Tynecastle. It’s up to us to try and work on stuff to overcome that.
“One thing I know about John from going up against him as a player and coach, his preparation and enthusiasm for the game is great. You’ll not meet a harder working guy than John McGlynn and that’s why we have to make sure we’re at it from the first whistle.”