Hearts couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to the domestic campaign, with Celtic, St Johnstone and Aberdeen all up in the first week. Although three victories will be extremely hard to come by, our approach to those matches can set the tone for the season.
We are going into the campaign on a bit of a downer after the disappointment against Birkirkara. We should have had enough about us to get through that tie, but I didn’t feel we had enough of a go at them. I think that’s where a lot of the frustration comes from among supporters – there is a feeling that we have not been bold enough in certain games over the past year.
Although there’s a bit of trepidation about the start of the new season, I genuinely believe that, with a slightly more adventurous and aggressive approach, we are good enough to pick up some positive results over the next week. How positive we are in games will decide how the season pans out.
We have a big, strong, physical defensive unit, with a young goalkeeper behind them who the management clearly have faith in. But I’ll be particularly interested to see how we utilise our attacking players this season. I’d like us to play two out-and-out strikers with creative players like Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson on the wings.
In the Birkirkara home game, I think there was a disappointment that we started off with only one outright striker, but finished with several attacking players on the pitch. I think most Hearts fans would prefer us to get on the front foot from the first whistle, rather than waiting until we need to chase a game. Traditionally, we are at our best when we have a go at teams. We have a lot of strikers on the books, so there’s no reason to be tentative in our approach now. I think having two strikers to aim at would also benefit Sam and Jamie because they would have more options.
Perhaps the kamikaze nature of the first game of last season, when we beat St Johnstone 4-3 but looked vulnerable defensively, was a factor in the change of tact, but I think the supporters quite enjoyed the sense of exhilaration in that game and would like to see us go gung-ho more often.
What happens over the next week could dictate the mood for the season ahead. By the end of the Aberdeen game next weekend, we could be in a state of doom and gloom or we could be buoyant again. Fundamentally, I think the majority of fans will be happy as long as they see us trying to play with boldness and freedom.
As far as aims and expectations go, I’d like to see us consolidate in the top six first and foremost as we need to continue re-establishing ourselves in the upper echelons of Scottish football. A repeat of last season’s top-three finish will be dependant on how much we attempt to try and hurt the opposition.