The uncontainable rampaging of David Smith in Dingwall on Saturday was a sight long awaited by many Hearts fans.
The young winger has played in fits and starts this season, yet has struggled for consistency. The 2-1 win over Ross County was influenced heavily by his performance, arguably his finest to date for the Gorgie club.
Smith’s crosses produced both Hearts goals in the victory. He also struck a post in the first half and supplied tantalising deliveries into the Staggies’ penalty area throughout the 90 minutes. Only Sam Nicholson on the opposite flank, who also turned in an excellent display, came close to matching him.
Seeing Smith scamper past the Ross County left-back Evangelos Oikonomou with such blatant ease was worth both the journey north and the admission money. His potential has often been hinted at but all too frequently stifled in a Hearts shirt. Since his solo goal in the Edinburgh derby at the start of the month, he has started every match and looks like a player thriving on the chance to build momentum.
“I’m delighted at getting a run of games now. Hopefully I can get a wee bit of consistency going,” said Smith in an exclusive interview with the Evening News. “I thought I played well on Saturday. I played a part in both the goals, so I’m happy with my performance. I put a good ball into the box in the first minute and I took confidence from that. The manager had said to me to be positive when I get the ball and that’s what I did. I tried to beat my man and put the ball into the box and it came off quite a lot. I enjoy playing in games like that and going forward.
“Earlier on in the season I was up and down. I was in the team for two games, then out for two games and it wasn’t really getting the best out of me. In the last couple of weeks the gaffer’s given me a run in the team and I’ve done okay, so hopefully I can keep it going. I can play on both wings. I don’t really have a preference over the left or the right. On the left side, you can cut inside and get shots at goal, but on the right it’s easier to cross if you’re right footed, like me.
“For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been passing the ball. When the team starts passing the ball more, the wingers get involved more. The game was open for us on Saturday and it was the type of game where wingers could get involved. I enjoyed taking my man on and getting crosses into the box. It was brilliant to get the win. It was the first in a while and it was a great feeling afterwards.”
Smith began describing the satisfaction within the camp after a first league victory since early November. “You hear the fans at the end of the game and then, walking into the changing room after a win, there’s no better feeling. We’ve not felt that feeling for a while.” At that point, he is interrupted by banter from down the corridor as team-mates spot him being interviewed. Jamie Hamill is the culprit. “If we’d lost on Saturday that would never be happening. You can’t beat winning a game of football.”
Certainly not, given the venue concerned. The Global Energy Stadium was where Hearts capitulated last September as a 1-0 lead changed to a 2-1 defeat in the dying minutes. Saturday’s journey back down the A9 was far more enjoyable. “That’s what the gaffer said before the game – if we win the game and get three points then the journey back is a long one, but it will be ten times better if you’ve won,” revealed Smith.
“Last time, we were winning 1-0 up there with two minutes to go and lost 2-1. You can imagine how we felt that day. I think that’s the worst I’ve ever felt in football. We were in control of the game at 1-0. You think you’re winning the game and then you lose 2-1. You can’t switch off at this level for a second or you’ll get punished and that’s what happened that day. We’ve learned from it and that showed on Saturday because we held out to get the three points.
“It was good being involved with the winning goal. I’ve crossed the ball in and Scott [Robinson] scored, then he’s gone to the fans [to celebrate]. I was in there and I got hugged a few times by the supporters.”
There is a feeling 2014 could see more adulation coming Smith’s way; the year when he finally establishes his credentials at Hearts. He turns 21 at the start of March and, after two previous loan spells at Raith Rovers, is back at Tynecastle eager to make an impression. Administration has given him and a host of Riccarton academy colleagues the chance to become first-team regulars and Smith is grateful for the opportunity.
“It is the situation we’re in. Young boys have been given a chance and maybe we wouldn’t be getting this chance in past Hearts teams. I’ve been really happy getting the opportunities this season. I’ve played in most of the games and been in the starting line-up a number of times. The experience is helping me and it will be good for my career when I’m older.”
Even if a stint in the Championship beckons first, the prospect does not faze Smith. “No, I wouldn’t have any qualms playing in there, but I wouldn’t say it’s definite,” he said. “It looks like that will happen just now but we just need to keep going and keep fighting like we did on Saturday.
“I’ve played in the Championship with Raith Rovers and it’s a good level. Playing for Hearts is even better. You’ll see the crowds Hearts will get. There is a good spirit in the team because we’ve all played in the youth team together and we’re all familiar with one another. That can only help going forward.”