Gary Mackay: Experienced players crucial for Hearts

Ryan Stevenson takes on St Mirren's John McGinn, left, and Sean Kelly

Ryan Stevenson takes on St Mirren's John McGinn, left, and Sean Kelly

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After a devastating defeat against Kilmarnock, the surprise return of Ryan Stevenson was a key factor in yesterday’s much-improved performance at St Mirren.

Ryan being on the pitch would have given everyone in the team a big lift, particularly the likes of Jamie MacDonald, Danny Wilson and Jamie Hamill who have to shoulder an extra burden when he is not playing. Make no mistake, what little experience we still have in the squad is crucial to our hopes of holding our own in this league. If any of our four experienced players are missing, we are in trouble.

Having Ryan back gave us a much-needed physical presence in attack and also allowed Callum Paterson to move back and help stiffen up the midfield. It was clear from Gary Locke’s team selection, with Scott Robinson, Hamill, Paterson and Callum Tapping strung across the middle, that he wanted the team to be harder to beat.

Having those guys in midfield allowed us to get more of a foothold than we’ve had in recent games. Hopefully, everyone has come through the game unscathed and we can field a similar side against Hibs at Easter Road on Thursday because we will need players who are willing to go there and compete. I’m pretty sure Hibs will be a more formidable proposition under Terry Butcher but we can still be reasonably confident having beaten them twice this season.

I know there will be Hearts fans who disagree with me but, for all that the derby is massive, the game at home to Partick on Sunday is even bigger as they and Ross County look to be the only teams we have any hope of catching. We desperately need to pick up three points against the teams about us, which is something we haven’t done yet.

Finally, I’d like to wish all the loyal Hearts supporters a happy New Year.

Both the Edinburgh teams have played at home to Kilmarnock over the past few days, with one of them enjoying a mini-revival and the other struggling badly at the bottom of the league, yet Hearts attracted 4000 more people through the gates than Hibs. That just puts the incredible dedication of the Hearts support into perspective. They deserve a more fruitful 2014.