For the words “undefeated record” and “Hearts” to be muttered within the same breath is an achievement in itself, according to club legend Gary Mackay.
The Gorgie side’s all-time record-appearance holder, who spent 17 seasons with the Tynecastle outfit, admits he never thought he’d see the day when Hearts were re-writing the record books following the dark days of Vladimir Romanov’s regime.
Robbie Neilson’s new-look team have embraced life in Scotland’s second tier with promotion back to the top flight now firmly within reach – and the chance to etch their name into history.
Despite Mackay suffering the trauma of losing the league title to Celtic on the final day of the 1985-86 season, the former Hearts midfielder and his team-mates can still boast a club record of 27 league matches undefeated throughout that particular campaign.
With the current crop edging ever closer to that tally, the opportunity to make it 21 games unbeaten when Falkirk visit the Capital this weekend, Mackay can sense a record that has lasted almost three decades nearing its end.
“From my perspective, the record just being under threat is a joy to be honest,” Mackay told the Evening News.
“If I thought we would be sitting talking about this a year ago then I would have been surprised. It’s definitely possible with the level of consistency and desire that these boys have got. It doesn’t just disappear and there wouldn’t be anyone happier than me if it was to happen.
“It would be a massive achievement but I don’t think any of us are fooled – there was a lot of work going on in the background before the season started.”
Alex MacDonald was at the helm when Mackay was in the early years of his Hearts career, the 85-86 season not beginning in the most convincing fashion as the club succumbed to defeat in five of their opening eight league fixtures. The present squad, meanwhile, have enjoyed unprecedented success since the season kicked-off under new ownership in August.
“We had a real disappointing start that season,” Mackay, who played 640 times for Hearts, recalls. “But as soon as you start winning four, five or six games, the confidence just filters in and everybody starts believing in themselves. It’s how the team does as a whole though and I think that is key.
“I think we only used 14 or 15 players during our run but the one great thing about Hearts at the moment is they’ve utilised the squad they’ve got, putting Jordan McGhee in and playing [Callum] Paterson up front for example.
“I can remember Alex and SandyJardine saying to us it’s about one game at a time, and in hindsight that was maybe just paper talk because of the numbers we had used, but I do think this group just looks at one game at a time because they treat every individual game on its own merit. Alex and Sandy were slightly different as they rewarded the guys that were in the team by playing the following week, so there is a slight difference. But what it does show is the collective unit that is there at this moment in time.
“All you’re thinking about is the next game. As soon as one 90 minutes finishes, the players will be looking to see who’s going to challenge them next. When you come off the park without a defeat and you’re involved in a long run, games cannot come quick enough.”
Mackay admits Hearts have rode their luck at times this season, none more so than the 1-1 draw with city rivals Hibs at Easter Road in October.
He added: “Yes, we were fortunate to come away from Easter Road with a point, but that doesn’t just happen through good luck.
“It happens with perseverance within the group and we had the same when we scored late on as well, so you just feel you’re never beaten until the final whistle goes.
“But you cannot dilute their achievement. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in to put a run like this together.
“And from the perspective of the turmoil that has taken place, nobody can take that away from them.”