I think it’s safe to say that the international break has come at just the right time for Hearts. Had we won on Saturday, then we’d maybe have wanted a game this weekend to keep the momentum going, but it was pretty evident that the demands and exertions of the past month or so are starting to take a toll on our wafer-thin squad.
After a testing midweek cup game at Raith Rovers which went all the way to penalties, I think the demands showed, particularly in the second half at Inverness where, unlike in previous games, we never really looked like getting back into it. Tiredness and fatigue – both physically and mentally – would certainly have contributed to Saturday’s performance and it will continue to be a factor as we don’t have the scope to shuffle our team around.
Saturday’s game was always going to be a real uphill struggle, particularly with Danny Wilson and Kevin McHattie missing. That meant we were missing the entire left side of a defence which had been solid until Saturday. Because of the start we’ve made, we could almost afford to write off the Inverness and Celtic games in terms of our expectations. The games we really need to be looking at winning are the three immediately after the Celtic one: Ross County away and Dundee United and St Mirren at home. We need to be fully prepared for those three in particular, because they are among the teams that haven’t made a good start to the season, especially St Mirren who are on a real downer at the moment.
All you can hope for on the days when you’re not expected to pick up points is that nobody else near the bottom of the league picks up points, and that was certainly the case at the weekend, with St Mirren, Kilmarnock and Dundee United all losing and Hibs and Ross County cancelling each other out. I’m sure I’m not the only Hearts fan who’s been taking a keener look than usual at how results elsewhere are going this season. I almost find myself becoming a fan of other teams, like Partick and Motherwell on Saturday for example, as they can help keep our main rivals within touching distance.
Having said all that, we are not totally without a hope against Celtic a week on Saturday. The break gives us a chance to rest some weary legs, regroup and get McHattie and Wilson back. We have a perfect record at home to take into the game and Celtic will have more players than us playing for their national team this weekend. They also have the small matter of a Champions League trip to AC Milan straight after they come to Tynecastle, so there’s always a chance they could take their eye off the ball.
The obvious negative is that we could be without Jamie Hamill, unless we can appeal his sending off from Saturday’s game. Some Hearts fans will feel there is a witch-hunt against us because we’ve now had three red cards – one or two of them a touch on the harsh side – in eight days, but that’s just one of the factors we’re going to have to deal with. Human nature dictates there will still be a lot of people who are not happy about how we’ve gone about our business in recent times. Because of what’s gone before at our club, we are not going to get a lot of sympathy and often we’ll not get the benefit of the doubt at crucial times, so we’re just going to have to accept that and try and overcome it. Picking up red cards that we maybe feel are unjust can at least go to helping the manager develop the siege mentality among the players. We are going to have plenty more difficult times this season, but we can’t start feeling sorry for ourselves.