At the end of another uncertain week off the field, Hearts deserve massive credit for producing as good a performance as I’ve from them for some time.
I’ve been critical of the Academy in the past, but Kevin McHattie and Jamie Walker in particular raised their game to a level which, if they are able to maintain it, would certainly enable them to enjoy a long and fruitful career in the Hearts first team, and possibly even at a higher level.
The two of them were exceptional on Saturday. Gary Locke was talking about how good it was that 11 of Saturday’s squad were under 21, and he is right to be encouraged by that. However, it is still hugely important that we don’t underestimate the value of the experienced players at the club. For all that the young boys did well, the likes of Jamie Hamill, John Sutton, Ryan Stevenson and Darren Barr were all integral to the win. I’m pretty certain if you ask any of the young boys, they would say that the more experienced guys helped them through the game. It’s imperative that we retain the right balance between youth and experience and don’t become too top-heavy on youth.
Having seen how Darren Barr has played since he was told he wasn’t getting a new contract, I’d be seriously tempted to offer him a new contract on half the money he is currently on. You hear about players being told they no longer have a future at a club and then they end up staying on after all, and I think the way Darren has gone about his business in recent weeks suggests he’s the type of professional we should be pulling out all the stops to keep, if possible.
To highlight how good Barr was on Saturday, you only have to look at the problems Esmael Goncalves and Steven Thompson caused Andy Webster and Danny Wilson in the League Cup final. By contrast, the St Mirren pair barely got a sniff against Barr and young Dylan McGowan.
There was a great crowd and a great atmosphere at Tynecastle on Saturday and the players really responded to that. There were loads of positives, but the biggest plus point for me has to be the manager. I know the size of the crowd would have been a big help to the Hearts players on Saturday, but in a game where we had little to play for, it was noticeable that we were well up for the game from the very first minute. I’d bet that a lot of that was down to whatever Lockey said to them before the game.
We’ve now put ourselves in a position where we could realistically finish above Hibs and that would be a great achievement considering everything that’s gone on this season and how big a gap there was between the teams earlier in the season.
Before Lockey took over, Hibs were well clear of us but he’s done really well to reel them in. No-one can knock his record since he took over. Nine points out of 12 – that’s the kind of standards we want to set going forward. If we can win our last two games that would mean we’d be finishing the season with five wins out of six. That would be a nice bit of momentum and would at least ensure we can break up for the summer with a bit of optimism.
I see no reason why we can’t beat Hibs on Sunday. I always fancy Hearts to win a derby match, although Hibs have certainly turned it round this season and have been a much tougher opponent than in recent years. Having said that, if we play with the same pace, tempo, enthusiasm and desire that we showed as a group on Saturday, we’ve got to fancy ourselves. I’m already looking forward to it.