Don Cowie has challenged Hearts to revive the spirit of last season’s rousing victories over Rangers as they bid to ensure new-look Tynecastle becomes a happy home.
Workmen are busy trying to make the stadium equipped to be granted a safety certificate in time to allow Sunday’s match against Partick Thistle to go ahead as scheduled.
The visit of the Jags is due to kick-off a run in which Hearts will play seven of their next eight fixtures in Gorgie after spending seven months – aside from two Betfred Cup matches in July – away from their home while extensive redevelopment work has been carried out. Tynecastle has traditionally been a stronghold for Hearts over the years, although recent memories of playing at home aren’t particularly positive for the Jambos after they won only two of their last eight Tynecastle fixtures of last season under Ian Cathro before a costly Betfred Cup draw against Dunfermline Athletic in July which ended with the stadium gripped by rancour and the rookie head coach being sacked.
Craig Levein has subsequently taken charge, and Cowie is confident that Hearts can capitalise on being back at home, as opposed to being inhibited. Recollections of the 2-0 win over Rangers a year ago and the 4-1 triumph over the same side two months later buoy the veteran midfielder as he aims to help his team get on the front foot from the moment they run out at their new-look home.
“The two games in my time that stand out at Tynecastle are the two Rangers games,” Cowie told the Evening News. “We beat them both times and played really well. We were on the front foot, putting them under pressure and getting the crowd behind us. That’s what we need to get back to doing.
“It’s a two-way thing. A lot gets made of it but it’s up to us to help the fans create the atmosphere. Unfortunately we went through a period in the second half of last season where performances were poor and then the confidence was low.
“It was a vicious cycle and Tynecastle then became quite a daunting place to play at. But this is a fresh start with the new stand, and it’s something we’re looking forward to. It’s a chance to form a new bond with the supporters. We’ve been waiting for a long time to get back home.”
Hearts are currently sixth in the Premiership but ten points adrift of city rivals Hibs after losing their past three matches. Criticism of the team has been fierce in recent weeks, but the upcoming run of games at Tynecastle is seen as a golden chance to start making some belated headway up the Premiership table after only four points were collected from the four “home” fixtures played at Murrayfield.
“We’re going back home, so it’s important to use that to our advantage because we’ve had a difficult period,” said Cowie. “We’ve been playing at Murrayfield, and we knew that would be the situation, but it’s not our home ground and it’s not what we’re used to. It’ll be good to get the fans back to Tynecastle. It’s going to be a tremendous stadium. It was one of the best in the country for atmosphere anyway, and now that it’s going to be finished with the four stands, I’m really looking forward to getting back out and playing there again. The pitch will be good because it’s not been used, so hopefully it can give us a real lift. We’ve got a good run of fixtures up until the break in January, so it’s up to us to get the results and take advantage of it.
“Tradition says that we’re stronger when we play at Tynecastle, so hopefully we can make the most of the run of home games we’ve got coming up. The fans want to see us on the front foot and that’s when we’ve tended to play at our best while I’ve been here.”
In addition to returning home, Cowie is encouraged by the fact a batch of experienced players are gradually coming back from injury. Cowie himself was back in the side against Kilmarnock last time out after missing the previous two games with a hamstring problem, while Aaron Hughes, Prince Buaben and Arnaud Djoum are all expected to be involved this weekend after recent lay-offs. The absence of these key men has meant Levein has had to rely on six teenagers in recent matches, while also using players out of position.
The resilience of the early months of the season has given way to a sense of frailty over the last three matches. Cowie believes that every player – particularly strikers Kyle Lafferty and Esmael Goncalves – will benefit if Levein is able to get something resembling his strongest XI on to the pitch.
“We’ve had no continuity because we’ve had Arnaud out for two months, I’ve been out, Jamie (Walker) has been out, and Prince and Aaron have been out,” he said. “It’s been hard to develop relationships on the pitch and get an understanding over a run of games. Isma and Kyle have managed to play the majority of games and have scored a few goals but we’ve probably not given them enough service to really see the best of them.
“They’re very different players but they can make a good partnership and be a real handful in this league. Hopefully as the weeks go on, we can get more players back and see a real improvement.”
Cowie is in good fettle after coming through the defeat by Kilmarnock unscathed. “I managed to play 90 minutes against Kilmarnock and I’ve had the free week to get a bit more fitness, so I’m looking forward to the run of games coming up. I felt my hamstring against Ross County and then I got a scan which showed the degree of the injury, so I had to give it time. Because of the injuries we had in midfield, I wanted to rush back but you just can’t do that. It’s not physically possible.”