Interim Hearts coach Jon Daly pinpointed tenacity as key to Saturday’s 1-0 win at Kilmarnock as he praised his players’ fighting spirit.
The Irishman won the first match of his temporary reign – and his first at senior level – thanks to Esmael Goncalves’ early goal at Rugby Park.
Daly was especially pleased by Hearts’ resilience after he paired on-loan Liverpool player Connor Randall and Cameroon internationalist Arnaud Djoum together in central midfield.
The Edinburgh club have been widely criticised in recent months for a lack of grit and motivation. Both teams were reduced to ten men on 68 minutes when Goncalves and Kirk Broadfoot were sent off. However, Hearts fought hard for three points and answered some of their critics in the process.
“I thought Arnaud was different class. It was a really strong performance from him. I thought Connor Randall was different class as well,” Daly told the Evening News.
“You could go through the whole team. I thought our centre-backs dealt with a lot of long diagonal balls very well. Right through the team, We worked extremely hard and made sure we won the battle. That’s probably a game which we wouldn’t have won last season. We dug it out, rolled out sleeves up, dug in and worked hard so we’re delighted with the three points.
“The game was end-to-end. The style of play Kilmarnock played, looking for long diagonal balls into the box, it just takes someone mistiming a header or not reaching a ball for it to drop in their favour and you can concede.
“We kept a clean sheet, which is very pleasing for Jack Hamilton in goal and for the defence.”
Jamie Walker was back in Hearts’ squad after being left out of the past two matches in light of interest from Rangers. He remained an unused substitute as Daly was forced to change his gameplan.
“You have your subs planned and then the game doesn’t work out as you think,” admitted Daly.
“I obviously planned to try and get Jamie on the park but the way it panned out, I don’t think it was set up for a Jamie Walker coming off the bench at the time when we needed to make changes.”
Walker received a warm reception when he emerged from the dugout to warm up during the first half. Rangers’ interest remains strong but Daly said the player is now applying himself much better in training.
“I think he knows now what everyone at the club thinks of him,” said Daly.
“Myself, the coaching staff, the fans and everyone else has huge admiration for him. He’s a fantastic footballer who we want at the club. If we can get him on another contract, it would be great.”