Scott Gallacher’s chance has arrived much sooner than expected.
Neil Alexander’s broken cheekbone creates an opportunity for Hearts’ second-choice goalkeeper to stake his claim less than a month after joining up at Tynecastle. Having left Rangers in search of regular first-team football, Gallacher will be the Hearts No.1 for at least the next three to four weeks until his colleague recovers.
That period could incorporate up to six matches, with Petrofac Training Cup and League Cup ties interspersed with league fixtures. Gallacher won’t look too far ahead, nor is he the type to revel in another goalkeeper’s misfortune. Alexander’s collision with Alim Ozturk at Ibrox on Sunday has worked in his favour, but don’t expect him to crow about it.
As a product of the Rangers youth academy, the 25-year-old derived genuine satisfaction from Sunday’s 2-1 Hearts win on the opening weekend of the SPFL Championship. He played his part in the match, replacing the injured Alexander in the second half, but the deputising starts in earnest this weekend under the most intense scrutiny.
Hibs visit Tynecastle on Sunday for an eagerly anticipated Edinburgh derby. It’s a game Gallacher believes is even bigger than the opening day trip to Ibrox and one in which he is determined to showcase his credentials.
Speaking in his first newspaper interview since signing a two-year Hearts contract, he outlined his intent to make the next month count.
“It was great to get on and play on Sunday, especially against a few boys I’ve grown up with for years,” he told the Evening News. “To be honest, I wanted to start the game but obviously Neilly was there to be the No.1. Hopefully I get a wee sniff to keep the jersey.
“That’s the kind of situation I’ve been taught to deal with at any club. As a professional, you prepare right and hope to get your chance to get on. That’s all you can ask for. I’m never nervous, never. You just need to be calm and composed and show that to the defenders. Hopefully, they trust you as well.
“All the boys are calm. We need to deal with difficult situations and luckily we have the players to do that, even though we have a young squad.”
Hearts head coach Robbie Neilson had contemplated starting the new season with only 20-year-old Jack Hamilton as back-up for Alexander. When it became clear Gallacher would leave Rangers as a free agent, the Edinburgh club moved quickly. Neilson, understandably with hindsight, is grateful to have Gallacher to call upon now.
“I was pleased for Scott on Sunday,” he said. “He came in a few weeks ago. He came from Rangers and he wanted to come and play football. Now he’s got the opportunity to do that.”
Gallacher has designs on becoming the established No.1 at Tynecastle after spending years as a frustrated onlooker. He was dispatched on loan to Cowdenbeath, Forfar and Airdrie during his time at Ibrox. Each time he returned desperate to make an impression, and each time he was denied the opportunity. In total, Gallacher managed only five senior appearances in eight years with Rangers. Few would begrudge him a wry smile as he left Ibrox on Sunday, but for him there are more important tasks needing immediate attention.
“It’s probably a bigger game against Hibs,” he said. “It’s a derby and derby games are massive.
“We need to put our foot down in these kind of games as well because we want to win every match. It will be a great game on Sunday and we’re all looking forward to it.
“The boys are all confident after winning at Ibrox on Sunday. We’ve prepared well through pre-season with some extremely hard training sessions and now it’s paying off.
“Ibrox is a great place to play football and Rangers are a massive club. It’s at stadiums like that where you want to play football in front of a massive number of fans.”
He was nonetheless disappointed with the goal he conceded in the 90th minute. Gallacher got a hand to Nicky Law’s hooked shot following Kenny Miller’s header across goal but he couldn’t prevent the ball reaching the corner of the net.
“I tried to push it away and, for me personally, I don’t want to concede any goals,” he complained. “It was just one of those things that happened, it was a spur of the moment thing. Luckily, we got a second goal shortly after it.”
That was brilliantly executed by another new signing, Swedish striker Osman Sow. “The big man did brilliantly. He was probably man of the match, in my eyes anyway. He’s been a great addition to the squad,” added Gallacher.
Winning in Glasgow puts out a clear statement about Hearts’ intentions for the season ahead. They see themselves as capable challengers for the Championship title and the automatic promotion spot which goes with it.
“Of course it puts a marker down,” said Gallacher.
“Hearts are a massive club and we need to get the foot down now. We were great on Sunday and to beat Rangers is a superb result, no matter whether it’s 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 – you’ll take anything going to Ibrox.
“Hearing their fans getting upset played into our hands. If their supporters are booing the team then that’s a positive thing for Hearts because it means we’re doing something right.
“We’ve got really good players here. Technically, I feel they’re different class. We passed the ball about well with some good ideas. I think things are looking up for Hearts.”
It seems things are also looking up for Gallacher. Alexander’s absence is hardly a positive development, but his deputy is keen to capitalise and give Neilson a future dilemma when it comes to selecting his goalkeeper.