GARY LOCKE today warned that Ross County still represent a formidable test for his young Hearts side despite the Dingwall men making a dismal start to their second season in the top flight.
After back-to-back defeats against the two form teams in the country – Inverness and Celtic – many Jambos are viewing Saturday’s long trip to face the struggling Highlanders as the ideal opportunity to get their survival mission back on track.
County, who impressed in finishing fifth last term, have lost four of their six Premiership matches this season while also crashing out of the League Cup to League One side Stranraer.
Manager Derek Adams has been left baffled after seeing his side run up the worst defensive record in the league, while they have spent the past few days licking their wounds after a 4-2 defeat at home to Dundee United in which they trailed 4-0 until the last 18 minutes of the game.
Locke, however, is adamant Hearts will have to be at their very best if they are to have any chance of picking up points against a County team he expects to emerge from their slump sooner rather than later.
“They’ll be a bit of a wounded animal after losing to Dundee United so we’ll be getting them at a time when they’re coming out with a point to prove,” said the Hearts manager. “We’ll have to be on our guard and put in as good a performance as we did against Hibs and Aberdeen if we’re to have any chance of getting anything out of the game.
“I see every game in the league as a really hard game, but there aren’t many tougher ones than going up to Inverness or Ross County to get a result. I wouldn’t expect them to be in a slump for long. Derek Adams has done really well since he went back up there and he’s signed some good players. They’ve got a lot of experience and they’ve still got boys like Richie Brittain, so I’m fully expecting a difficult game.”
Locke knows Hearts are
entering a critical phase of their survival mission, with three of their next five league games against the teams immediately above them in the table – County, St Mirren and Kilmarnock. While he doesn’t expect anything to be easy, he said: “The next five games are crucial for us. We need to pick up points if we’re going to have any chance of pulling off the miracle.”