FIVE bookings in eight appearances this season underline the combative edge to Jamie Hamill’s play. Hearts have shunted him from right-back to central midfield to add experience and bit in that area, although the 27-year-old has attracted some unwanted attention so far.
An ill-deserved red card at Inverness was rescinded on appeal, while Hamill was the victim of a headbutt by Raith Rovers’ Dougie Hill in last month’s League Cup second round tie at Stark’s Park. His competitive side remains undiminished and manager Gary Locke, below, will not attempt to dilute the player’s appetite.
Hamill has accumulated four bookings in the Scottish Premiership and one in that League Cup tie in Kirkcaldy. A suspension would seem not too far away, although he requires two more league cautions or two more League Cup ones before incurring an automatic ban in that specific competition.
Locke explained today that suspensions are inevitable as Hearts attempt to overcome a 15-point deficit and avoid relegation. He is happy with Hamill’s contribution so far and has no intention to curb that competitive streak.
“I don’t think I’ll take him aside or anything,” said Locke. “His booking on Saturday [against Ross County] was a challenge where he went for the ball and got a yellow card. He’s a competitive player and I fully expect him to make those challenges. I’m not overly bothered about that. Obviously it won’t be great if he picks up another two yellows, because then he would miss a game through suspension, but we need to be competitive, especially with the position we’re in.
“I’ve said all along that I won’t tolerate bookings for throwing the ball away and talking back to the ref. When you’re genuinely trying to win the ball, it’s something I can accept. It’s something you need to put up with and we’ve said it’s a long season and that we are going to lose players through suspension. Hopefully, we just don’t lose too many of them.”
Hamill will again play a key part for Hearts tomorrow night when Queen of the South visit Tynecastle in the third round of the League Cup. Like any team which enters the tournament in the first or second round, Hearts’ players are allowed three bookings before a suspension takes hold. Clubs which enter in the third round over tonight and tomorrow are only permitted two yellow cards.
The key issue for Locke, though, is not a disciplinary one. Three successive defeats – by Inverness, Celtic and Ross County – mean a stern test of his young team’s mettle over the coming fortnight. Queen of the South are quickly followed at Tynecastle by Dundee United and St Mirren in a run of three consecutive home matches. After the late capitulation in Dingwall when a 1-0 lead with two minutes remaining finished in a 2-1 defeat, there is much lifting of morale to be done around Riccarton.
“It’s a big test for us all now,” explained Locke. “The Ross County game was a sore one to take because, for long spells in the game, I thought we were comfortable and well in control. We were defending really well, but a couple of slack moments with a few minutes to go cost us two goals. That’s hard to take and the boys are deeply disappointed.”
Locke’s message is not to panic. “Everybody is pretty dejected and the heads are down at the moment, but we have big games to come,” he said. “We’re only seven games in and there is nothing going to be decided at this stage. We have to learn from the goals we’ve lost, pick ourselves up and hopefully kick on and do better.
“I’ve got every faith in the boys. They’ve been fantastic from day one. Their effort and commitment to the cause was first-class. We are a young team and we are going to make some mistakes. That’s very frustrating. However, we need to learn and learn quickly. If we do that, hopefully we can turn it around.
“We’re all very disappointed at losing the late goals (but) maybe in the next game we’ll get a last-minute winner. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ll be giving it our best again tomorrow night. We now need to pick ourselves up because we’ve got another big game.”
Options for rejigging his team are limited, therefore Hearts are expected to field a similar line-up to that which came so close to winning in Dingwall.
“It’s the same as the Raith game, we don’t have a lot of options to freshen things up,” admitted Locke. “We’ll look at the boys and make sure they have the heads up and are ready to go again.
“The games are coming thick and fast and we were all very disappointed with how the game ended at Ross County, but we simply need to pick ourselves up for Queen of the South.”