Travel weariness may well be setting in as Hearts begin another series of four away games this Saturday at Hamilton.
There are plenty home comforts to come, though, with an unprecedented 10 of the club’s 12 fixtures due to take place in Edinburgh starting next month.
The meeting between Hearts and St Johnstone at Murrayfield on October 21 kicks off a unique period in Scottish football history as Craig Levein’s side bed down in the Capital.
They follow the St Johnstone encounter with a short trip to face Hibs at Easter Road and then Rangers at Murrayfield before a scheduled homecoming on November 5 against Kilmarnock at Tynecastle.
That starts a sequence of seven consecutive home matches in front of their new £12million main stand. After Killie come Partick Thistle, Ross County, Hamilton, Motherwell, Dundee and Celtic – all followed by a trip to McDiarmid Park and then a return derby with Hibs at Tynecastle two days after Christmas. It is a period expected to prove pivotal to the club’s fortunes this season.
Playing so many fixtures in their own city, and particularly at Tynecastle, offers the chance to build serious momentum through the autumn and into the festive period. If Hearts players and staff are feeling the effects of being constantly on the road over the next four weeks whilst visiting Hamilton, Maryhill, Dundee and Dingwall, they can be consoled that familiar surroundings are lying in wait.
“Some people might look at it as an advantage that Hearts have this run of games at Tynie coming up, but you could argue they’re at a disadvantage at the moment because they’re playing away from there,” explained the Raith Rovers defender Jason Thomson, who was at Hearts when they previously played matches at Murrayfield in the mid-2000s. “They’ve had their well-documented changes over the last couple of months, but the fans, players and the whole club might start to feel this is their season beginning.
“You get momentum when you get a run of games like Hearts have coming up. If the players and management get into a mindset knowing they have all these games at home, that’s unheard of anywhere else. Start that group of games well and they might put a run together which could shoot them right up that league.
“It will be particularly massive for the fans and the players going back to Tynecastle. The atmosphere could be rocking there even with the old stand. Hearts will have been away from Tynecastle for so long that it will bring an extra buzz for everybody. It will be a huge plus getting back there.”
Hearts hosted their first match at Murrayfield in ten years last weekend when they drew 0-0 with Aberdeen in the first match of Craig Levein’s second term in charge. The 24,248 crowd generated a decent atmosphere, although perhaps a different one to the hallowed venue on the other side of the Western Approach Road.
“I heard it was a decent atmosphere on Saturday with 25,000 there but I think, if you put more than 20,000 inside Tynecastle, it would be a lot better than it is at Murrayfield,” said Thomson.
“I played at Tynecastle last season with Raith and it’s still a brilliant place to play. Any team, other than Celtic, which takes points from Tynecastle see it as a decent result. Hearts will be looking to pick up points at home because that’s important for any team. For ourselves at Raith, our home form is massive in trying to get us promoted from League One this year.”
Thomson recalls the lengths Hearts went to in order to acclimatise to the home of Scottish Rugby back in 2004.
“I don’t know why I always remember this but, the first time Hearts were preparing to play at Murrayfield, they organised a friendly there against Dundee. I was in the youth team at the time and we were asked to be ballboys. That Dundee team had Fabrizio Ravanelli and everyone else. In a closed-door match, you can imagine the echoing and lack of atmosphere. That sticks in my mind. It was just a trial to get used to the pitch and the ground.
“I remember being at the AEK Athens game [in 2006]. The atmosphere was still good, it was a midweek European night, but I don’t think you could compare it at all to Tynecastle. I’ve been to a few sold-out rugby matches at Murrayfield, which I’ll probably get a bit of stick for, but I really enjoyed them. I remember a Scotland-Wales game. There was a great atmosphere because the ground was full. I don’t think any of these Hearts matches there will live up to that. There aren’t many better places to play football than a full Tynecastle.
“Hibs away is great and I know the Hearts fans love going to Easter Road because they fill that stand. I always look back on the home games at Tynie with fond memories. Although things didn’t quite work out as much as I’d love them to, I still had a lot of good years at Hearts. Playing at Tynecastle is one of the highlights of my career so far and I’m sure that will still be the case when I stop playing.”
Having 10 out of 12 games in Edinburgh, and the majority at a redeveloped Tynecastle, is a situation Levein will be eager to capitalise on when the time comes.
“I definitely think this could be the catalyst to get the season started properly,” said Thomson. “It should be like getting back to what Edinburgh is used to, Hearts making it hard for teams to come to Tynecastle. No disrespect to the teams they’re up against but Hearts will be looking to get maximum points from most of these matches. The fans give the team great backing but they can get a bit aggrieved. That’s something you don’t want creeping in at Tynecastle. I know that started to happen under Ian Cathro. It can then be hard for players to get everybody back on side.
“Craig was the manager when I first signed for the club. I think he’ll do well. He’s taken Ross Callachan from us at the end of the window. I think they will finish right up there, in amongst Aberdeen and Rangers. Unless you’re PSG, you aren’t getting near Celtic at the moment.”