Excitement building at Tynecastle as Hearts push towards the top of the Premiership
Excitement is building at Tynecastle Park after seven Premiership games without defeat for newly-promoted Hearts.
Saturday’s 3-0 defeat of Livingston emphasised their dominance, manager Robbie Neilson enjoying the luxury of resting defender John Souttar and winger Josh Ginnelly with niggling injuries whilst still winning comfortably.
His team sit one point behind league leaders Rangers and appear to have the wherewithal to mount a challenge, at least for European qualification. An extra task may be tempering expectations in the stands.
The Gorgie public are entitled to revel in some prosperity after a difficult few years and it would be churlish to stifle that. If last season’s Championship campaign was a grind, Hearts look more gallus in the Premiership. Yet no-one at the coal face will get carried away.
“At stages last season, it was a bit of a slog,” admitted Michael Smith, scorer of a fine opening goal against Livingston. “Teams paid us a lot of respect last season and sat in. It was hard to break them down but in this league teams will come out and try to win the game.
“You find little pockets of space and we’re managing to do that now, so hopefully that run continues for us. We’ve started well but we won’t rest on it.
“We’ve got massive games coming up, starting with Motherwell next week. They’re on a good run so they’ll fancy coming here, but we’ve got to play our game and see where it takes us.
“Then it’s the international break and then Rangers, so it’s a big couple of games coming up for us.”
Liam Boyce’s penalty and a first senior goal for loan signing Alex Cochrane completed the scoring against a tame Livingston outfit. Australian midfielder Cameron Devlin dominated on his home debut for Hearts, ably assisted by Beni Baningime.
Another loanee, Taylor Moore, deputised for Souttar with authority as Neilson reverted to a three-man defence. New recruits adapting well is central to Hearts’ prowess.
“There’s real pressure playing for Hearts. That’s what you’ve got to deal with when you come to this club,” said Smith. “You’ve got to realise that it’s a huge club and the fans are so passionate about it, so when you do come in, you do relish it, you do succeed and the fans will love you for it.
“Fair play to them. They’ve come in and taken it on board, realised what it means to all of us and we’re all pulling in the same direction.
“There’s stuff we do in training, we have competitive days where we play small-sided games and everyone’s at it. Everyone wants to impress and that’s the way it should be.
“You never know when the gaffer is going to change it and you get your chance and you might stay in the team. Everyone realises that we’ve got a good squad and you might not play every week, but it is a team game and we’re together in that.”
Hearts (3-4-3): Gordon; Moore, Halkett (Haring 89), Kingsley (Halliday 71); M Smith, Baningime, Devlin, Cochrane; McKay (Mackay-Steven 77), Boyce (Gnanduillet 63), Woodburn.
Livingston (4-4-1-1): Stryjek; Devlin, Obileye, Fitzwater, Penrice; McMillan; Holt, Williamson (Omeonga 46), Lewis (Longridge 46); Bailey (Anderson 65); Shinnie.
Referee: Gavin Duncan.