Dylan McGOWAN admits Hearts face a formidable test in the Highlands today as they bid to add to their impressive four-game unbeaten run against rampant Inverness.
Terry Butcher’s side currently sit top of the table, having taken ten points from a possible 12, and McGowan knows it will take a massive effort from his side to bring all three points back down the M9 tonight.
The Australian paid tribute to the job Butcher has done despite losing some key men in the summer. “Terry Butcher deserves a lot of credit,” said McGowan. “They lost a lot of good players in the summer, like Owain Tudur Jones, Andrew Shinnie and Antonio Reguero, but he has managed to bring in new players and pick up where they left off last season.
“The staff and players deserve enormous credit and they are top of the league for a reason. We will have to be on our very best form to go up there and get three points.”
Kevin McHattie will miss today’s trip north after having his appeal against last weekend’s dismissal overturned.
The defender was red-carded against Aberdeen, while Danny Wilson received the same fate for a spat with Dons players and staff in the tunnel after the match, so Hearts manager Gary Locke will have to shuffle his pack for the trip north. That is likely to involve a few players moving to different positions, with McGowan himself a contender to be moved from right-back to centre-back in order to cover for Wilson. Versatility is going to be a crucial factor for Hearts as they bid to get by with a threadbare squad this season.
“I’m not surprised (the appeal was turned down) but I am disappointed, especially for Kev,” said McGowan.
“I thought he played really well against Aberdeen and he is a really important player for us. You can see where he is coming from for his appeal, and a Hearts fan put up the money, so it is unfortunate.
“But we just have to move on and play Inverness without him. Our defence has been one of our strong points, but if I have to move in one or whatever then that is okay
“With the way things are this season, everyone is willing to play wherever they are asked, and there will be a few that might need to do that against Inverness.”
McGowan also feels that Wilson was unlucky to be singled out for punishment when there were a number of players involved in trading insults last weekend. But he conceded that the Tynecastle squad must make sure that they keep their tempers under control in order to give Locke as many options as possible over the course of the season.
“I’m not sure how much I can elaborate on what was said,” McGowan added, “but as far as we are concerned a lot of things go on in tunnels – and a lot of things did go on – but for us to be punished and for Danny to be banned is harsh. It is something we need to learn from, and he will learn from it. We will learn to keep our emotions in check.”
Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers is likely to be back on the bench again today after coming on as a substitute to replace Jamie MacDonald in the midweek League Cup victory at Raith Rovers. The first-choice keeper looks likely to recover in time from the injury he sustained at Stark’s Park but McGowan insists all of the Hearts players have the utmost faith in No.2 Ridgers – even if he does take his fair share of stick in the dressing room and is the current wearer of the bib which goes to the worst training-ground performer.
“He’s a good lad to have about the place and he will do well,” said the Australian. “He gets a fair bit of stick, but he is a great guy and a top goalkeeper and I’m sure he’ll prove that. He did score an own goal in training, though – the ball played back to his feet and he just shelled it into his own net! These things happen routinely with Ridgers, that’s why he was on the bib this week.
“He is a really capable keeper. Jamie MacDonald has been brilliant for us and has shown he is one of the best keepers in Scotland – I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. But Ridgers is a young boy coming through and he did extremely well when called upon the other night.
“He has had a good run in that competition, saving a few penalties with East Fife, so hopefully he takes the form from the Raith game into the Inverness game if called upon.”