Dale Carrick admits he was surprised Robbie Neilson didn’t scoop the latest Championship manager of the month award.
The Hearts head coach took the honours in August after four successive victories and looked the likeliest contender to win it again in September as their rampant form continued.
With seven points from three league games, Hearts took more points than any other team in the division and were the only side to negotiate the month undefeated, scoring ten goals and conceding just one.
However, the honours went to Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs, whose side beat Cowdenbeath and Rangers either side of a defeat at Queen of the South.
Hearts striker Carrick said: “Our gaffer’s done everything right. We’re undefeated and scoring goals, and I think he should have got [the award] again.”
While the Hearts players are making mincemeat of their opponents, Carrick believes Neilson and his coaching staff merit credit for ensuring standards are not allowed to slip.
“The coaching staff are putting in a lot of hours every day and it’s showing at the end of the week that what they’re doing is working 100 per cent,” he continued. “We’re getting better and better with each game.
“People probably expected us to slip up at somewhere like Queen of the South last weekend, but that’s the sort of thought that we thrive on. We want to prove people wrong and show that we go to places like that, play well and get the results that we want.”
Neilson’s meticulous preparation has underpinned Hearts’ stunning start to the season, with Carrick giving a rough insight into how a typical working week unfolds at Riccarton. “We start on a Tuesday morning [Monday is their day off] when we come back – we look at a video and the manager will talk about how we want to go about things on the Saturday,” explained Carrick. “From that, he makes up a training regime involving passing drills and things like that on how we’re going to achieve what we want to do on a Saturday, and then we just go out and do it on the training pitch.
“We do repetition of everything until we do it perfectly, so when it comes to a Saturday, it all comes more naturally. We’re all thriving on the double and triple sessions. It’s showing in our fitness and our strength on a Saturday.”
After recovering from early-season injury problems, Carrick, who scored a double for Hearts Under-20s against St Johnstone on Monday, is in contention to start at Alloa tomorrow. The 20-year-old striker was grateful for the chance to get a feel for the Wasps’ unpopular plastic pitch when Hearts went through to train on it on Wednesday, and he admits it took some getting used to. “Most of the boys hadn’t been to Alloa before so it was good to see what it looks like and get a feel for the way the ball moves,” he said. “It was beneficial that we went through there. The pitch was quite hard.
“It was completely different to Queen of the South. Queens’ was softer and more spongy, but Alloa’s is quite compact and sore, as you find you’re hitting the ground quite hard when you’re running. Queens’ is more natural and is probably better to play on because Alloa’s is quite an old one.”
Left-back Adam Eckersley revealed in yesterday’s Evening News that Hearts found the pitch was covered in stones. Carrick added: “I was surprised at the amount of wee rocks on the pitch. Most of us were finding wee stones and trying to chuck them off, but no matter where you went, there were more stones. There’s no chance they’ll be cleared by kick-off, so we’ll just have to deal with it.”
While the consensus from the Hearts players is that the pitch is not ideal, Carrick feels there are some advantages to playing on such an untraditional surface. “There’s a good zip on the park, which should help with our passing – that’s our strength,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll be changing our game because of the pitch. If we need to go in for a tackle, we’ll go in for a tackle. You’re there to win a game, so it doesn’t matter about the pitch. We’ll probably wear mouldies, because there’s no way it would take a stud. You could probably play with astro trainers like you would wear for five-a-sides because the ground is so hard.”