Apart from failing to produce a positive outcome, yesterday’s match against Celtic ticked every box I wanted from Hearts.
I wrote in my column at the weekend that the approach to the opening games of the season would be just as important as the results, and I think every Jambo should be massively encouraged by what they saw against the champions.
We were really competitive and on the front foot from the first whistle. We lost a questionable goal, with Stuart Armstrong blocking the sight of our goalkeeper from an offside position. If that was at Celtic Park, I know the home support there would have been screaming for it to be chalked off.
We responded really well, albeit with a fortunate penalty award, but Celtic, given the amount of contentious decisions they have benefited from over the years, are in no position to be making a big deal of a dubious call going against them.
The game was really even for 80 minutes and we looked to be matching them physically, but then Celtic had Leigh Griffiths, Scotland’s player of the year, and a £4 million new boy in Scott Sinclair to make the difference when it mattered. That’s what every other Scottish club is up against.
The last two weeks has clearly allowed Hearts’ management to work with the players and get some of them more match fit after the Birkirkara disappointment. In contrast to that dispiriting night a few weeks ago, I think the majority of supporters left Tynecastle yesterday with a real respect for the effort, commitment, adventure and team set-up they saw. If we can continue in that vein, we’ll win more games than we lose, that’s for sure.
It will be a challenge to replicate that level of intensity because not every game has the same, highly-charged atmosphere as a match against Celtic. Certainly on Wednesday, when we visit St Johnstone in the Betfred Cup, it will be a much lower-key setting, which, as I’ve alluded to before, can sometimes be difficult for Hearts players to adapt to.
However, we still have our captain, Alim Ozturk, to come in which will make us stronger.