Gary Mackay on Hearts: Sutton and Smith the spearhead of magnificent 7

Gordon Smith is tracked by St Johnstone duo Tam Scobbie and Liam Craig. Picture: SNS
Gordon Smith is tracked by St Johnstone duo Tam Scobbie and Liam Craig. Picture: SNS
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YESTERDAY’S win over Dundee United has lifted us into the top six, just two points behind Aberdeen and only three behind Hibs. We’d have certainly settled for that scenario a few weeks ago when it was all doom and gloom after losing at Easter Road in the Scottish Cup.

Seven points out of nine is an excellent haul to have collected from our last three games in this ultra-competitive SPL. There’s no doubt that Gordon Smith and John Sutton have made a massive difference to the dynamic of the team in the past three games. These two typify the team’s recent resurgence.

Sutton’s not the prettiest footballer in the land – his running style’s not the easiest on the eye – but he certainly knows how to play that centre-forward role. He put himself about to allow the first goal to be scored, won headers all day and was a general nuisance to the United defence all day. He’s now beginning to look like the accomplished target man we thought we were getting when he first came from Motherwell.

Alongside him in attack, Smith absolutely ran himself into the ground. He put in a really good shift and had some really good bits of play in the game. These two have had a vital effect on the team.

At the other end of the pitch, Marius Zaliukas and Andy Webster were excellent again. There’ll not be many teams who can put as many quality crosses into the box in the one game as Dundee United did yesterday but our two centre-backs had some really good clearing headers. They had to work really hard to defend them and deserve real credit.

It was wonderful for the Hearts fans to get the chance to pay tribute to Rudi Skacel yesterday, but I think in a way Rudi will just be delighted the game is over because there would have been a lot of pressure on him yesterday.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ovation like that to an opposing player in my time following Hearts. Harry Redknapp was well-received by the Hearts supporters in the game at Tottenham last season, but that was really quite special yesterday.

We’re now in good fettle going into a period of the season that’s always busy. The battle cry to Hibs now has to be “We’re coming to get you”. We’ve got two hard away games this week at Kilmarnock and Ross County but if we can pick up a few points in those, it will set us up perfectly for the visit of our neighbours on January 3.

Our main objective for the game at Rugby Park on Boxing Day has to be to get back-to-back wins for the first time this season. That would be a huge monkey to get off our backs.

Hearts have been given a particularly tough set of fixtures because I don’t think there will be any teams that have to travel the amount of miles we do over the next two games. Kilmarnock and Ross County are two of the longest treks of the season for Hearts. Hibs, by contrast, have two home games, so it will be a really testing week for the hardcore element of our support who travel to every game home and away. If we can mirror our last three games and take seven points from our next three matches, it would stand us in excellent stead for resuming after the winter break.

Finally I’d like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. Every Hearts supporter deserves to really enjoy this festive period. The conviction of the Hearts support has never been tested more than it has this year. There have been ups, downs and about-turns, but the fans have been nothing short of amazing. If there was an award for the best fans of 2012, the Hearts support would win it hands down, in my eyes.