Jamie Walker doesn’t need to pause and ponder the bigger picture. He knows Hearts laid down a marker in the Championship title race with victory at Alloa.
Winning, even unconvincingly, where both Rangers and Hibs failed, showed a level of character that could be crucial if the Edinburgh club are to stay ahead of their rivals. Hearts have garnered 25 league points from the first 27 available to build a nine-point advantage over Rangers at the top of the table. Head coach Robbie Neilson won’t allow his players to become carried away with the early-season dominance. As such, Walker’s feet are firmly on the floor. He may be only 21 but he is experienced enough to know there are potential pitfalls ahead.
Injuries and suspensions have yet to kick in, and winter pitches could be awkward for a team with a fluid passing style such as Neilson’s Hearts side. Yet, at the moment, a defeat isn’t looking likely. Scratching out a 1-0 win with a goal four minutes from time on an unforgiving astroturf pitch in Clackmannanshire indicates Hearts will not be toppled from their perch easily.
“At the end of the season nobody cares what the score at Alloa was,” said Walker in an exclusive Evening News interview. “It’s three points on the board and they could be vital. Rangers now have a game in hand, but we’re nine points ahead and that’s a massive gap. To go to Alloa and win is a good result.
“Hibs didn’t win there and Rangers didn’t win there, but we’ve gone there and scraped a 1-0. That’s a good sign. The manager said at the end that it was a relief. He was delighted that we didn’t play well, but we still managed to win. That shows that we can go all the way. We’ve got good players who like to get on the ball and pass it but the surface wasn’t great. We didn’t get going and I think everyone was just relieved that we got the three points in the end. It could be a massive result come the end of the season.
“I think that’s what pleased the gaffer most. Obviously we didn’t play great, but we still managed to win. At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter if you’ve won these games 5-0 or 1-0, because it’s still three points.
“Rangers weren’t playing at the weekend and we knew we had a chance to go nine points clear. We would’ve been disappointed if we had dropped two points. Danny Wilson went off injured so we were playing with ten men for the last few minutes and we still managed to get the goal [from Adam Eckersley]. That shows the character we’ve got.”
Alloa’s endless energy and hustling tactics inhibited Hearts and it required a narrow deflection on Eckersley’s free-kick to break the deadlock. “I thought the pitch played a part in our performance, but Alloa did well against us,” conceded Walker, pictured left. “They hounded us and didn’t let us play our own game. They got men around the ball and we needed a lucky break at the end.”
The winger has been used in a variety of positions this season – on both flanks and in a No.10 role behind the main striker, Osman Sow. He is happy to be contributing in a squad which has the likes of Jason Holt, Brad McKay and Scott Robinson all struggling for game time.
“I can play anywhere along the front three,” said Walker. “The gaffer changed things a bit on Saturday and he did that in our last game against Queen of the South as well. I think he wanted to change it because the game wasn’t going in our favour. In behind the striker is okay. It was hard on Saturday because there wasn’t much space. Alloa crowded us out and did well so it was a relief to get a 1-0 win at get three points.
“There is always pressure playing for a big club. In the Championship, we’re expected to win every week. We need to keep winning and, hopefully, come the end of the season we’re still up at the top of the table.”