George Burley’s Hearts team famously started the season undefeated for eight games. Well, whisper it, but Craig Levein’s side have already bettered that statistic. Saturday’s 4-1 win over St Mirren was their ninth match unbeaten – eight victories and a draw with Raith Rovers in the Betfred Cup.
Comparisons between the current Hearts squad and Burley’s would be premature given the 2005 luminaries remained top of the league until November. Nonetheless, there is a swagger and aura about this group which looks similar to that of Julien Brellier, Roman Bednar, Rudi Skacel and the rest 13 years ago.
Positives abound for Hearts after another comprehensive victory to stay top of the Ladbrokes Premiership. Steven Naismith scored a hat-trick, Olly Lee again found the net, on-loan Demetri Mitchell is now a rampaging left winger, latest signing Craig Wighton made his debut and Arnaud Djoum returned after six months out with a snapped Achilles.
As if that wasn’t good enough, a 17th new signing arrived yesterday as talks with the Congolese international defender Clevid Dikamona ended successfully. The former Le Havre, Caen and Dagenham centre-half has signed a one-year deal with the option to extend.
Levein missed Saturday’s match to continue recovering at home after a stint in hospital. Assistant coach Austin MacPhee was in charge and the display would have made both men immensely proud. Particularly given it was achieved in Levein’s absence, and after the loss of Christophe Berra to injury, and the exit last season’s top goalscorer Kyle Lafferty to Rangers.
“If you want to go to the next level and you want to keep winning games, you’ve got to keep demanding more. At the end of the day, you can always get better. Saturday was positive but there’s always things to work on.” The words of Wighton just five minutes through the door from Dundee underline the motivation within the Hearts dressing room.
He started on the bench and came on for his debut to replace the excellent Steven MacLean with 14 minutes left. By then the game was over. Hapless St Mirren were effectively beaten by half-time as all the goals came in the first 45 minutes.
Naismith scored a penalty on three minutes after Jack Baird fouled Uche Ikpeazu, but the on-loan Jimmy Dunne converted an own goal to bring the visitors level. Olly Lee lashed home Naismith’s headed knockdown to put Hearts back in front, and the Scotland striker then scored a header and a precise right-footed drive minutes before the break to put his team firmly in command.
The second half left some Hearts players frustrated that they could not increase their goal tally. Wighton has already learned that those are the high standards he will now encounter every day after moving from Dundee on Thursday.
“It’s the polar opposite to the start of the season at Dundee,” he admitted. “The atmosphere there is not great for a few different reasons. As soon as I came here, I felt welcome and it’s a great place to be.
“I had in my mind that I wanted to leave and I’ve felt that for a few weeks. I didn’t think it would happen so I was going to get my head down and work as hard as I could at Dundee for six months. Then, in January, I would have been able to sign a pre-contract.
“Then this move came about so that was brilliant. I can’t wait to get settled here, get a full week’s training under my belt and maybe play a few reserve games to get up to speed.”
He knows it’s a fiercely competitive squad which has put together a 100 per cent start to the league campaign. “It is a big squad but that’s a good thing. At Dundee, it was quite a small squad and, at times, there wasn’t a lot of competition,” said Wighton.
“When it’s like that, you can get complacent. Here, you can’t afford to do that because if you don’t have a good game, there’s really good players on the bench and even outwith the bench who can come in and do a job. So it’s good to have that.
“It’s good to get my first game out of the way. In the first half the boys were excellent and that makes it easier, when you are coming on into a team that is full of confidence. We had the fans behind us, too, so I really enjoyed it.
“There are a few factors why I came here.
“I know the manager here has been a fan of me for a while so I was keen to work with him, and obviously all the coaches as well. If you look at their track record with young players over the last few years, then it was a no-brainer for me. As soon as I knew they wanted me I just wanted to get it all done as quickly as possible.”
How far can Hearts’ increasing momentum take them, then?
The new arrival is not getting carried away. “It’s early days obviously so I wouldn’t look into that too much. It’s a great start and if you can build on that and have a great team spirit and high confidence, you can achieve whatever you want. We’ll just take it a game at a time and continue trying to win as many games as possible.”