A polite but timely reminder for Hearts players arrived from midfielder Don Cowie following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Motherwell.
Tynecastle Park was still emptying after witnessing its first Premiership win of the season when the 34-year-old warned team-mates they are playing for their futures.
Manager Craig Levein wants new recruits when the January transfer window opens, so his current squad cannot rest on laurels despite the relief of their first win in seven matches. Kyle Lafferty’s first-half goal settled a largely turgid affair against Motherwell, and Cowie admitted Hearts fans must expect more of the same.
“It’s only natural that when you win it’s a lot happier. It’s good to get that first win at home,” he said. “It’s been a tough few weeks and we’ve lost a few late goals at times when we thought we could win. The real positive was that, although Motherwell had a bit of pressure, they didn’t really create any chances. We defended really well and got a great clean sheet. Motherwell have caused a lot of teams problems this year so we’re delighted to get the three points.
“It’s only natural when you don’t have that victory that you start to get a bit edgy, a bit nervous. The boys defended brilliantly. I don’t recall Jon McLaughlin having a save to make, which says it all. We didn’t create much ourselves but I really couldn’t care. We got the three points and that’s all that mattered.
“The manager would like to get a bit more balance in the squad come January. Until then, we just need to work hard and try to grind the results out. We’re all playing for our futures to make sure we’re part of his plans come January.”
Lafferty continues to be something of a talisman for Hearts despite his off-field gambling issues. This was his tenth goal of the season, arriving after he collected Cowie’s pass and outfoxed visiting defenders Cedric Kipre and Carl McHugh to slot the ball home from an acute angle.
“It’s been well documented he’s had a lot to deal with since he came here,” explained Cowie. “He’s a great person around the dressing-room so everyone is delighted for him and hopefully he can take real confidence from that. His goal return has been decent so we just hope he can really kick on. He took the goal brilliantly. It looked like it had got away from him but he showed great desire and produced a great finish.”
The Northern Irishman continues to play through the burden of his addiction. “I don’t know what it’s like but I’m sure it is very difficult for him,” said Cowie. “At no stage does he show that to us but, at the same time, he knows we’re all here for him. The boys have really taken to him. Hopefully this can be a real stepping stone for his career at Hearts.”
The opportunity to climb above Motherwell – for 24 hours at least – arrives tomorrow night when Dundee visit Tynecastle. “We can’t rest on it. We have another big game against Dundee. I watched them on Friday night [against Aberdeen] and they’re a dangerous team,” insisted Cowie.
“We will take confidence from this victory and you could sense the relief in the stadium when we got that win. The fans really helped us in the last ten minutes. They got right behind us and got us through that spell. We’re still undefeated since coming back to Tynecastle but we would have liked more victories.
“We’ve got over that hurdle and now we can look forward. We don’t want to look any further than Tuesday night and another crucial three points to make sure we’re in that top six. We all agree that’s what we need to be looking at and, with the calibre of players we’ve got, we need to be in that area. Another win on Tuesday will definitely help.”
As is inevitably the case with Hearts right now, the positives were accompanied by a few negatives as well. Winger Jamie Walker is certain to miss the Dundee match having lased just 22 minutes at the weekend before departing with a tight hamstring. Arnaud Djoum was also forced off with a knee problem.
Motherwell suffered similar problems. Having arrived in Edinburgh minus the injured Louis Moult, they had lost the influential Chris Cadden and Alex Fisher by the time the second half began. Manager Steve Robinson cut a very animated and frustrated figure in the technical area throughout the afternoon.
“We haven’t had much continuity in the team. We’ve had wee niggling injuries and suspensions,” Cowie pointed out from Hearts’ perspective. “Jamie goes off, which is hard. Arnaud has been out for a long time so it’s been difficult for the manager picking a team. I can’t really recall us having the same team for successive weeks.
“We haven’t had that consistency but you’ve just got to get on with it. You have to be ready to make your mark and hopefully stay in the team. David Milinkovic was ready. He came on for Jamie and did well.”
Milinkovic did indeed look hungry and motivated. Which is exactly what Hearts players must be if they want to build on Saturday’s victory and ensure they are part of Levein’s long-term vision.