A TOP-FOUR finish this season would be akin to winning a trophy for Hearts. That’s the view of midfielder Prince Buaben, who revealed that players and staff have set their own target for the end of the campaign.
Scottish Cup success is high on the agenda but Buaben feels a place in the top four of the Ladbrokes Premiership would be notable success, especially for a club newly promoted from the Championship.
Hearts sit third ahead of Sunday’s trip to Hamilton and are aiming to close the six-point gap between them and second-placed Aberdeen. “There is still a long way to go and hopefully we can achieve better. We’re still in the cup so that gives us a chance to win a trophy,” explained Buaben.
“We are third in the league and, you never know, we just have to keep pushing. If we come second, third or fourth, it’s a great achievement. Coming from the Championship, it’s like winning a trophy. We’re out to do our best for the next couple of months and hopefully get higher up the table.”
The Ghanaian midfielder believes his club are due more credit for their revival. “When you come from the Championship up to a bigger level, you always try to survive. That’s the first thing,” he continued. “When things are going well, then you start to think about other stuff. The manager has set a target but that’s between us, the players and the staff.
“I’ve said before that we came from the Championship and now we’re third in the league. Who wouldn’t be happy? Let me give you an example. If you go from the Championship in England and you get to third in the Premier League, why is that different to what’s happening here?
“People don’t understand that because they think: ‘It’s the Scottish Premiership, it should be easy’. It’s not. Players who play in the Premiership in Scotland, a lot of them can play in the Premier League in England, believe me. They just need a chance.
“People should understand that we’re third in the league and that’s a great achievement so far. Everyone has their own opinion but right now we are doing really well.
“Everyone knows Hearts is a big, big, club. Even when I was at Dundee United, Larry Kingston used to tell me how big Hearts were. When you go down to the Championship and come back up, it’s always going to be difficult. You have new players trying to adjust to the Premiership. So far, we’ve been fantastic to be sitting third and six points off second place.”
Hearts head to Lanarkshire following two massive results. The Scottish Cup win against Aberdeen and then the 6-0 destruction of Motherwell, both at Tynecastle, sent confidence levels soaring.
“The last two games have been good but, even when things aren’t going well, we always stick together as a team,” said Buaben. “The confidence has always been there. We always try to play football but sometimes it doesn’t click the way you want. It takes one game to click and then you start to find your feet.
“Some of our new players are finding their feet. Juwon [Oshaniwa], Igor [Rossi], Blazej [Augustyn], they are used to the game but sometimes in takes a bit longer. They’ve settled in more with the lads and you can see they can play football. They always want to pass the ball, which is good for us because that’s the way we want to play.”
Emotions are still relatively raw five months since Hearts’ infamous defeat at New Douglas Park. The injustice of losing 3-2 to Hamilton having been 2-1 ahead until Callum Paterson’s ill-deserved red card still rankles.
The Edinburgh club had won their first five league matches after returning to the Premiership but referee Willie Collum’s decision to send Paterson off for a tackle on Hamilton’s Darian MacKinnon cost them dearly.
The fallout lasted several weeks after the Scottish Football Association rescinded the red card then punished Hearts coach Robbie Neilson with a suspended two-game ban for criticising Collum. Meanwhile, the Edinburgh club lost their two subsequent matches against Inverness and Aberdeen.
They return to the scene this weekend determined to put things right but cautious that they don’t become distracted by past events. What occurred in August will not be allowed to dominate the build-up inside the dressing-room.
“It’s not something I can talk about because the manager said we shouldn’t speak about it,” said Buaben. “That day, we were really good and things didn’t go our way. Football is a game, it’s a hobby for us, but you can’t go looking for revenge. You just have to try and win the game and put a smile on your face.
“If you think about what happened last time, sometimes it affects you again. The manager will be on our backs trying to get us to win the game first and foremost. You can use that motivation but it can affect players. If you go into a tackle you think: ‘I might get a red card’. If you just forget about that you can play your normal game.
“Sometimes in football when you overthink things it doesn’t go your way. We have to forget about it and go into this as a normal game against any other team.”
Hamilton are in the midst of a crisis after winning only one of their last 15 matches. Their paucity doesn’t concern Buaben, however. “As a player, I don’t go into a game thinking about the other team’s results. I just go in and try to win the game,” he stressed.
“If you go and think about what their results are, you make it hard for yourself. You can’t have that at the back of your mind. They’re going to think they have to win this game. Sometimes you just have to forget about the other team and focus on your own game.”