Don Cowie believes Hearts have enough factors going in their favour to be able to mount a genuine challenge for the Scottish Premiership title this season.
The Tynecastle side are currently five points clear at the top of the table, having won all five of their matches so far, and four of their next six league games are at home. Cowie, who left Hearts to join Ross County last month, is convinced his former team’s early momentum, allied to the experience and depth within the squad, allows them to be considered contenders at a time when none of their traditional rivals have started the campaign particularly strongly.
“Losing’s a habit and winning’s a habit,” said Cowie. “All of a sudden Hearts have got used to winning matches again and that’s a powerful thing in football. To win five games on the trot in any league takes some doing. Not many teams have done that in Scotland recently. Think of the confidence they’ll have at the moment, and now they go into a period where they’ve got a lot of home games coming up, which gives them a chance to build on that momentum. Look at what Aberdeen have done in the last few years, particularly three seasons ago, when they pushed Celtic all the way after making a really good start. I see no reason why Hearts can’t do that if they just keep building, taking it game by game.”
Asked if he felt Hearts could win the title, Cowie responded: “Can Leicester City win the Premier League? Yes, they can. There’s no reason Hearts can’t do it. It’s just a case of building momentum and keeping rolling with it. Yes, you need a bit of luck along the way, with injuries and things like that. But Aberdeen haven’t quite fired yet this season, and Rangers and Celtic have got the Europa League, and playing Thursday-Sunday is really difficult.”
Cowie believes the key factor in Hearts’ improvement this season, after finishing fifth and sixth in their previous two campaigns, is that manager Craig Levein has been able to bolster his squad with players that suit his style and has also had a full pre-season to work with them.
“It’s great to see what they’re able to do now that Craig’s had a pre-season under his belt and signed the players he wanted to sign,” said Cowie. “There’s competition all over the park and the squad looks really strong. The fact Christophe Berra got injured at the start of the season and it’s not really affected things just shows how strong the squad is. There’s a lot of experience in the team compared to last year when a lot of youngsters played. The young boys all have tremendous potential and more ability than I’ve ever had but it’s hard for them to play week in, week out, like they had to do last year. This year it’s more experienced players, with a sprinkling of youth here and there. Callumn Morrison’s obviously played but Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald have not been involved as much. The manager’s now got the luxury of being able to dip them in when he wants rather than being forced to due to the squad being quite light. He’s got a real nucleus of senior professionals who have played for a number of years.
“Naisy (Steven Naismith) has had a really good start, so fingers crossed that he keeps scoring. Big Uche (Ikpeazu) has had a good start, then you’ve got the experience of Steven MacLean. It’s fantastic to see Arnaud (Djoum) back so quickly because he’s a brilliant player. If anyone can get the best out of him, it’ll be Craig. It’s just all positive at Hearts at the moment, and they’ve just got to keep it going.”