Hearts ace answers whether he'd like Steven Naismith to get manager's job full-time
The former Scotland international and club’s B team manager was promoted to the main role on an interim basis when Hearts dispensed with the services of Robbie Neilson following a run of five success defeats.
Right from Naismith’s introductory press conference he had preached the need for Hearts to play attacking, aggressive football. While results may have a bit more inconsistent, performances have been there. They were excellent in the 6-1 win over Ross County and dominated Aberdeen after a shaky start last weekend. There have also been a pair of strong performances against the Old Firm.
The Edinburgh derby result will go a long way in dictating public opinion, but for the meantime the majority of the support wouldn’t be adverse to Naismith getting the job on a full-time basis. But what do the players think?
“It's not my decision at the end of the day,” said attacking midfielder Barrie McKay.
"I think from the performances you've seen they've been good so far. If he gets the job full-time then he'll demand those performances always, and that's only a good thing.
“He's a really good coach. Before now I hadn't really worked with him much, just one or two sessions with sessions. He's been good. He's given a clear message. There have been no grey areas. For his first job it's a really big job as well.
“The players appreciated his honesty. He was the same as a player. He was moany, he was demanding and some players will like that and some won't. Even as a player, some would like that as a team-mate and others won't. At the end of the day, you have a job to do regardless of who the manager is.”
As a player who likes to take chances in the final third, has it been beneficial having a manager with similar tastes in how he wants the game to be played?
“I don't really think the way I've played personally has really changed,” answered McKay. “I've always been a player who has taken risks, whether they come off or not is a different story. Maybe tactically I'm out wider now, not playing as centrally, so it's maybe an easier way to get me the ball. He just gives me that freedom to go and express myself.”
Naismith’s chances of getting the job of a full-time basis would have been significantly bolstered had Hearts been able to overhaul the gap between themselves and Aberdeen, thereby finishing the season in third place and (very likely) being assured of group-stage European football again next term.
The midweek 2-2 draw at Ibrox, coupled with Aberdeen’s thumping victory over St Mirren, means that’s no longer a possibility. But while there is no guarantee of reaching the Europa Conference League now, the dream hasn’t completely vanished. The level of opposition will be crucial, but will be just two qualifying rounds to navigate should they avoid defeat against Hibs on Saturday.
“The boys are disappointed that we didn't get third but we've got a big game at the weekend. After it's done we'll reflect on the full season and look back at where it went wrong and stuff like that,” said McKay.
"We want to be the team that finishes fourth now. That's as high as we can finish. We need to put to bed what's happened and play our game, and hopefully get the three points.
“When the qualifiers come, we’ll be ready to go, whether it’s a week or two. You need that little break to recharge not just physically but mentally as well. This season has been really demanding mentally with all the travelling with the European games, it’s been tough. With the injuries as well boys have maybe been asked to play a bit more than what they have before.
"Last year we wanted to get Europa League football and fell just short. This year if we can get fourth we’ll go for the Conference League again and hopefully we can do it. It comes down to luck of the draw and who you get. If you get through it you’re in the same competition as what you were in last year anyway. A lot of stuff gets forgotten about after that.
"Getting there last year definitely whets the appetite. I think the fans loved it as well and that's what the club is built on: they want to be winning games and that's probably what we haven't done enough this season. We need to get back to that.”
One player who won’t be joining McKay and the rest of the Hearts squad on another European adventure is veteran full-back Michael Smith. It was announced during the week that the Northern Irishman will be leaving when his contract is up at the end of the campaign, meaning the derby match will be his 204th and final appearance in a maroon shirt if he features.
McKay has only played with Smith for the final two of his six seasons, but it’ll still be a sombre day for the 28-year-old when he says goodbye to his older team-mate.
“You don’t rack up the appearances that he’s had without being a good player and being consistent as well, consistently fit,” he said.
"It’s remarkable what he’s done and it will be sad to see him go. In the changing room he is one of the experienced boys that you can ask him questions or lean on him.”