I was looking at the bench against Hibs at the weekend and it gives you a fair boost in confidence. You knew that if there were changes – and there needed to be because of injuries – you feel it’s a decent squad.
Only two players who started the Scottish Cup semi-final started the infamous tie at Brora Rangers just over a year ago, so that shows a remarkable turnaround at first-team level. That’s what you need to focus on.
People can be negative about the lack of youth players breaking into the first team at this moment in time, but ultimately a club is judged on the results of the first team. To have qualified for Europe before we’re into May is an achievement very rarely managed at Hearts.
Doing so by beating our Edinburgh rivals twice makes it all the more pleasing. Overall, I thought we deserved to win both games. We scored two outstanding goals on Saturday, you won’t see two better strikes from Ellis Simms and Stephen Kingsley. If anything, we let Hibs back into the game with poor defending.
Now we have Europe to look forward to, and the guaranteed excitement and money from group stages. It’s such a massive opportunity for Hearts as a club to take huge strides. If the progress made over the last year can be replicated, then the club will be in such a positive place.
Robbie Neilson deserves the plaudits for driving the team to this point. I was quite negative after one or two results last year but the board need to take credit for sticking by him. They backed him and it has paid off handsomely.
In a sense, this is Hearts benefiting from good karma. They’ve endured difficult times due to poor management and recruitment, then being forced down into the Championship, now they have come back up and out the other side.
If you look at the history of Heart of Midlothian, things are never easy. There have always been bumps along the way and there have been a few of those in recent years. Now we are back in our rightful position in Scottish football as the third-biggest club.
Chasing Celtic and Rangers is a massive task. Hearts can plan for the final five games and then the Scottish Cup final, but beyond that they have time to plan for adding to the squad.
I know there is talk of Robbie possibly getting a new contract and that’s fair enough. I think getting some of our key players signed up over the last few months is hugely important. Guys like Craig Gordon, Craig Halkett, Stephen Kingsley, Michael Smith, Andy Halliday and Barrie McKay are all massive.
New signings will be needed over the months ahead. It’s only the middle of April so there is plenty time for conversations about augmenting the current squad. It’s been an excellent season. How can you lift it to another level? What is another level?
Is it competing with Celtic and Rangers or is it consistently being third-best in Scotland? That’s something Hearts can decide themselves.