Walker welcomes Rangers’ challenge to Hearts

Jamie Walker is anxious to return to the Hearts starting line-up after impressing as a substitute against Hibs
Jamie Walker is anxious to return to the Hearts starting line-up after impressing as a substitute against Hibs
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Hearts, having slipped up only once in their last six Championship matches, have had what was recently a nine-point advantage at the top of the table trimmed to just four by Rangers.

The Ibrox side, after a stuttering start, appear to be building up a head of steam. Ally McCoist’s men have won their last seven games in all competitions, including a four-match winning sequence in the Championship which has brought them 13 goals.

With both teams now in a consistent vein of form, it is all boiling up nicely for what promises to be the biggest match in Scottish football so far this season, when Rangers visit Tynecastle in a fortnight.

Despite the sight of the Glasgow side, with seasoned title winners like Kris Boyd, Lee McCulloch and Kenny Miller in their ranks, closing the gap, the Hearts players have remained unfazed.

“We know they are going to keep picking up points so we need to do the same,” said Jambos winger Jamie Walker. “They’re a good side and they’re definitely going to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.

“We just need to keep on winning and if we do we’ll stay at the top of the table. We play Rangers in a few weeks and that’s another huge game. It will be another chance for us to see how far we have come.

“We beat them through there on the first day of the season, so hopefully we can do the same when they come to Tynecastle.”

Hearts will be keen to get back in the winning groove at home to Raith Rovers today after dropping points for only the second time this season in their last match a fortnight ago. Despite failing to maintain their own hot winning streak against Hibs at Easter Road, the Tynecastle side have remained in a positive mindset after Alim Ozturk’s stoppage-time wonder goal earned a 1-1 derby draw and extended their unbeaten start in the league to 11 games.

“We got a few days off after the derby, so it worked out quite well for us,” said Walker. “The late goal against Hibs at Easter Road obviously made it a lot better. I think it would have been a long few days if we had lost the game. Getting the point there meant we could enjoy the days off a wee bit more.

“It was a massive result for us and I think it gave everyone at the club a big boost. We didn’t want to go down there to our rivals and lose our unbeaten run. So it was a massive goal for us. It’s great to still be on that run, but the season still has a long way to go. We’re unbeaten and the boys are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment but we just need to take each game as it comes.”

Walker came off the bench early in the second half at Easter Road to replace Soufian El Hassnaoui with Hearts trailing 1-0 and struggling to make notable headway. The 21-year-old winger’s arrival helped spark an improvement in his side’s performance. After finding himself behind Billy King and Sam Nicholson in the pecking order this season, Walker will be hoping to return to the starting XI against Raith today.

“I came off the bench at Easter Road and felt I did quite well, so hopefully I am in the gaffer’s thoughts for the weekend,” he said.

The sight of Raith Rovers arriving at Tynecastle will spark fond memories for Walker, who had his first taste of first-team football with the Kirkcaldy side as a teenager. John McGlynn, then manager of Rovers, took the youngster on loan from Hearts three years ago, along with fellow Riccarton academy prospects David Smith, Jason Holt and Denis Prychynenko.

Walker made 23 appearances and scored three goals for a Raith side containing their current manager, Grant Murray. “That was a few years ago now but it was good for me,” recalls Walker. “It was the first time I played professional games and that obviously helped me in my career. The gaffer there played when I was there, and now he’s the manager, but I don’t think there are many others left.”