Kevin McHattie recalls breaking an ankle on astroturf aged 17, but he won’t hesitate in a 50-50 challenge at Palmerston Park today.
Next week he returns to the scene of that injury at Alloa, yet still won’t flinch.
Hearts’ left-back is over the trauma of a year out of football and the pain of screws and a plate being inserted in his ankle. He broke it on Alloa’s astroturf more than four years ago as a tackle left him sidelined for a full season.
Heading to play on Queen of the South’s synthetic pitch today, McHattie stressed he has no hang-ups about artificial surfaces whatsoever.
“I broke my ankle playing for Dunfermline on the astroturf at Alloa when I was just 17. Someone came in from the side and smashed me and I was out for a year,” he explained.
“I think the pitch actually came up as he slid into me and my ankles got caught underneath it. I had pins and a plate put in but they are all out now. The first time after that we played Livingston and I could actually feel the screws because of the pounding they took on the astro. So I had to get them taken out.
“It went through my head a lot back then but not now, I am over it now. I just get on with it. I have played on astro several times since then and I am happy to do so. I trained with Dunfermline on astro a number of times and that helped.
“The pitches are better now as well, the 4G surfaces are a bit longer and softer which helps the game and allows you to pass it better. And, if there’s a 50/50 going, I’ll be there.”
Experience of Queen of the South’s pitch last year will help a number of Hearts players. “We played them during pre-season [in July 2013]. It was a hard game, they kept the ball well. So we need to keep in mind that they can do that, we’ve got to defend well and catch them on the counter attack.
“It’s one of the more difficult grounds in The Championship. They have astroturf which is different from grass which will influence the game. It was brand new then, I don’t know if it’s a bit more flat now which will let us pass the ball around. But we’re looking to go there and pick up three points.
“We were down at Spartans’ astroturf on Wednesday and we have trained on our own the last few days. So we’re getting used to it. The bounce of the ball can affect the game and you have to try and keep your mistakes to a minimum. And you also want to keep your head and make sure you don’t make any stupid challenges. Because you could hurt an opponent – or hurt yourself.”
Confidence levels are high ahead of the trip to Dumfries following a productive week for all connected with Tynecastle. Last Sunday’s 5-0 win over Livingston preceded Hibs’ win over Rangers at Ibrox on Monday night. Those two results leave Hearts six points clear at the top of the SPFL Championship.
“All the boys are flying with the result at the weekend and then the result in midweek,” said McHattie. “It is great to be six points clear and we are looking to build on that. Hibs did us a favour.
“I didn’t watch it, me and Callum [Paterson] were playing FIFA but he was keeping an eye on it on his phone. I was shocked to see them 3-0 up at half-time. I expected Rangers to come out and grab a goal or two and make it difficult which they did. But well done to Hibs. It did us a favour.”
Now the aim is to keep the chasing pack at bay and increase the gap is possible. Head coach Robbie Neilson has stressed to his squad that clean sheets are key to achieving league success. “We just look to win each game, the gaffer has us in doing video analysis every morning looking at the opposition so we can pinpoint and target their weaknesses,” revealed McHattie.
“He’s talking to the defenders all the time, stressing we need to keep clean sheets because it could go down to goal difference at the end of the season. We need to keep goals down to a minimum. Going forward we have pace, we’re strong, we’re confident, we have it all. We’re winning 4-0 and 5-0.
“In the Dumbarton game, they sat in and made it difficult for us. We came in the next morning and the gaffer showed us things we could have done better and how to break them down. Then we go out onto the pitch and keep doing it. It’s all about repetition.”