Hearts have had no problem banishing setbacks this season. Prior to Sunday’s 2-1 defeat away to Rangers, the Tynecastle side had drawn or lost only seven games in all competitions. On each occasion they responded with a victory in their following match.
Even though the Championship title has already been secured, Callum Paterson is determined to ensure Hearts show the ability to bounce back for an eighth time this term when they host Alloa Athletic tomorrow night. The right-back doesn’t want a highly impressive sequence of results throughout the season to be blemished by consecutive slip-ups in the closing weeks of the campaign.
“The fact we’re champions doesn’t change the fact we were disappointed at losing on Sunday,” Paterson told the Evening News. “Even though we’ve won the league, we don’t want to be losing games. We just want to put Sunday behind us and get back on the winning trail and hopefully get a few more goals under our belts in the last five games of the season. Hopefully we can do a job against Alloa and build our confidence back up for the Hibs game on Sunday.”
Hearts made a lethargic start to Sunday’s game as first-half goals from Kenny Miller and Haris Vuckic laid the foundations for a third win in succession for a Rangers side who look transformed under the guidance of recently-installed manager Stuart McCall. Even the dismissal of home captain Lee McCulloch just before the interval didn’t greatly influence the match as the Tynecastle side failed to beat the Ibrox outfit for the first time this season.
Paterson admitted Hearts got nowhere near their usual standards but insisted Rangers’ renewed hunger for the battle, which had the bulk of a 40,000 Ibrox crowd in raptures at the end, didn’t take the champions by surprise. “I didn’t sense Rangers were any more up for it than usual,” said Paterson. “It was just the same sort of atmosphere you get any time you play the Old Firm or Hibs. We knew they were going to be up for it but we just didn’t start the game the way we wanted. It was frustrating and disappointing. We went there as champions and tried to do the right thing but unfortunately we ended up losing the game. The way we lost wasn’t like us at all.”
Sunday’s defeat was Hearts’ first in the league away from home in 13 months. Aside from cup defeats at Livingston and Celtic, their last loss on the road came on March 8 last year when Gary Locke’s team were beaten 4-2 by Kilmarnock in the Premiership. Prior to Ibrox, Hearts had won 15 and drawn three of their 18 away games in the league, a run which started with the 4-2 victory at Partick Thistle on the day they were officially relegated from the top flight.
“It’s some feat to have gone that long unbeaten away from home,” said Paterson. “It’s obviously a great achievement for the club but we would obviously have liked to have made it 14 months and taken it to the end of the season.”
Hearts will be eager to ensure there is no repeat of Sunday’s performance when they visit Hibs this Sunday for another game against a side battling for second place in the Championship. However, Paterson insists the primary focus is on tomorrow’s game against Alloa, who also have plenty to play for as they battle to haul themselves out of second-bottom spot and avoid having to face a relegation play-off at the end of the season.
“It’s the start of derby week but we’ve got Alloa before that and that’s a big game as well because we’ll be in front of our home crowd,” said the 20-year-old. “Hopefully we can put on our best performance and give the fans something to cheer about because we didn’t give them much to cheer about at Ibrox. After that we move on to the game against Hibs which will be our last derby until next season or possibly the season after, so we want to do well in these games.”