TWO away fixtures at Fir Park and Rugby Park over the next two weekends are likely to be pivotal to Hearts’ survival hopes. Winger Jamie Walker believes four points would be an acceptable return in the quest to avoid relegation from the Scottish Premiership.
Whilst stressing that he and his colleagues will pursue the maximum six points, the 20-year-old stated that a draw and a victory would still be more than useful. Drawing at Fir Park and beating Kilmarnock would see Hearts close the gap on the Ayrshire club, who are ten points ahead of them and sitting second bottom of the league.
The magnitude of these matches cannot be overstated following St Mirren’s 2-0 win at Tynecastle prior to the international break. Hearts need to resume progress in recovering ground, although they have already overhauled eight of the 15 points they were deducted for entering administration before the campaign began. Tomorrow’s hosts are both awkward and dangerous. Motherwell are third in the table having replenished their squad cleverly during the summer, when mainstays like Darren Randolph, Tom Hateley, Nicky Law and Michael Higdon left for pastures new. Their replacements, including a certain John Sutton, are faring pretty well.
“Motherwell are a good side and they’re playing well,” said Walker, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “We will obviously try to get the three points but we’d take a point, and then we need to try and beat Kilmarnock. Four points would be a great return, although we are going into these games aiming for six points.
“We’ve had a wee break and some boys have been away on international duty. It’s like a fresh start and we need to start picking up points, as everyone knows.
“We’re looking to get some points on the board tomorrow. Usually we’d have had a game last Saturday to get the St Mirren match out of our minds. It’s been a long two weeks, but the boys have been working hard.
“It’s difficult to get that result out of your mind because it was a big blow for everyone at the club. It’s nearly put us back to where we started this season. Tomorrow is a big game now. We’ve got two big games coming up and we’re looking forward to them. There are still 29 games left, it’s a long way to go. We only lost one point on Kilmarnock so we are one point worse off than we were before our last game. We play Kilmarnock next week and we’re looking to catch them.”
Being underdogs virtually every week suits the Hearts players, according to Walker. This could be put down in part to their inexperience and excitement at getting first-team opportunities earlier than expected at the top level. Seeing their club detached at the bottom of the league and threatened with relegation is not so welcomed.
“It’s hard seeing the league table like this,” continued Walker. “It’s not pretty to look at but that’s just where we are and we need to deal with it. We’re looking to try and cut that gap down in every game we play.
“Since the start of the season, everyone’s been writing us off. This is a massive challenge and after one result against St Mirren people are writing us off again. We know what we’ve got in the changing room so hopefully we can put a few results together. There isn’t really much pressure when folk are writing you off. Against St Mirren, it was probably the first game this season we were expected to win; it just kind of fell flat.
“There’s no pressure on us tomorrow, though. It’s hard going away from home because it’s not like Tynecastle, where there’s always a good atmosphere. There might only be a couple of thousand people at some of the away grounds. As a player, you need to motivate yourself and we’re looking to put our away form right in the next two games.
“Maybe the pitches aren’t as good and the crowd isn’t as big so it’s hard to motivate yourself. We won at Rugby Park last year so hopefully that gives the boys a bit of confidence when we go there.”
Walker admitted he is still striving for greater consistency within his game but feels he has justified his selection in most games so far this season. He has been a regular wide on the left of manager Gary Locke’s three-man attacking midfield behind striker Callum Paterson.
“Wide left is my favourite position and I feel I’m playing well there,” said the winger. “I’ve scored a few goals but obviously everyone can do better. We showed against St Mirren that we’re nowhere near where we could be. I’ve not scored for a few weeks and I’d like to get a few more goals. I’ll keep working on that and try to keep creating chances for the other boys.
“Callum has done well up front and he’s a big boy as well. If I put good balls into the box, hopefully he’s there to put them away. I thought I did okay against St Mirren and the gaffer gave me some praise. Tracking back is the bit that wingers don’t like but you just need to do it. I’ve maybe been guilty of not tracking back a few times but sometimes that just happens. Maybe I need to learn to do that more.”