Jamie Brandon strode out at Tynecastle Park on Sunday desperate to banish the memory of his red card against Hamilton. Ninety-four minutes later, the euphoria of a historic 4-0 win over Celtic had erased all thoughts of his dismissal two weeks previously.
The teenager was one of many standout performers as Hearts ended the 69-game unbeaten run put together by Celtic’s Invincibles. He knew he had to atone for elbowing Hamilton’s Antonio Rojano in the face, and did so in the perfect way.
Manager Craig Levein took Brandon aside before the match to warn him about staying in control of himself. Being ordered off for violent conduct is the only blemish on the defender’s impressive report card since his senior debut in May. Levein left him in no doubt that he simply couldn’t afford a repeat.
An assured performance out of position at left-back helped nullify the threat of Celtic’s Scotland international winger James Forrest. More than that, it allowed Brandon to feel he had made amends for one solitary moment of madness.
“I felt I had to go out and do my best because what I did against Hamilton was stupid,” said the 19-year-old, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “You’ve got to make up for it and I felt I did that against Celtic.
“The manager said I need to watch what I’m doing and I need to control myself. He spoke to me before I played on Sunday and said he needed to trust me and that I can’t be getting sent off. I felt I did what he was looking for. He’s trusted me and I had quite a good game.
“I didn’t want to go out and be getting sent off after ten minutes, leaving the team a man down and making everyone’s lives difficult. I tried to go out and just play my own game. I felt composed, I didn’t get caught up in anything so I really enjoyed it. Hamilton is forgotten about now. I’m looking forward to the St Johnstone game on Saturday and hopefully I’ll play in that.”
Like most of Levein’s squad, Brandon is still enraptured by Sunday’s events. No-one foresaw any kind of Hearts win against Celtic, let alone a rampant triumph which verged on a riot. That it was achieved with three teenagers – 16-year-olds Harry Cochrane and Anthony McDonald were on the field beside Brandon at full-time – makes it all the more satisfying for those involved.
The scenes in the home dressing room at full-time are one of the highlights of young Brandon’s fledgling career. “After the game, that’s when it really hits you that you’ve beaten them and ended their run. It was brilliant,” he beamed.
“Everybody was ecstatic in the dressing room, the music was blaring, the gaffer was buzzing with all the boys and everyone was just happy. I’d have to say it Sunday was my best experience in football. My first win with the first team, away at Kilmarnock, was my best because it was my first time being in the winning team. I enjoyed that but Sunday was better.
“It’s the best I’ve ever felt after a game. It was a great performance from the lads and to beat them 4-0 is just fantastic. We worked a lot on the training ground on how to press Celtic because we had watched teams like Anderlecht and Motherwell go about it that way and get a bit of success. We tried to do that and it worked, so all credit to the gaffer and his coaching team.
“We played well in a couple of games recently and just didn’t take our chances, but against Celtic we were really clinical. It makes all the difference when you can put the ball in the net instead of missing chance after chance.”
Hearts weren’t satisfied even with a 4-0 advantage, however. They continued pressing amid chants of “we want five” from the delirious home support. There was also an evident determination in defence not to concede a goal as maroon jerseys threw themselves in front of Celtic shots and headers.
“We wanted the clean sheet, we just wanted the best result possible,” explained Brandon, who normally plays right-back. “It was a makeshift back four but we played really well. I was at left-back and I’ll play wherever the gaffer wants me to play. Even when it was 4-0, we just kept playing the way we did when it was 0-0. All the boys wanted to keep going and get more goals.”
Six games without defeat and three successive wins without conceding gives the Hearts dressing room a markedly different ambience than six weeks ago. There is confidence and a swagger about Levein’s side heading into three festive fixtures against St Johnstone, Hibs and Aberdeen.
“We’re getting results now and that’s really good for the boys’ confidence,” said Brandon. “Winning helps massively. We were playing well against teams like Partick Thistle and Ross County but we didn’t really push on. We weren’t clinical enough. We beat Dundee and then got four goals on Sunday, so it’s been a really good week.”
Hearts remain fifth in the Ladbrokes Premeirship after Sunday’s success but they are now just three points behind Edinburgh rivals Hibs in fourth. Brandon isn’t getting overly carried away just yet. “I reckon we can go really far but we need to take it game by game and see how far up the league we can go. I think we can get something out of all the games coming up. The way we’re playing just now, we want to keep that going and see where it takes us.
“We don’t really take notice of what people say. We stay tight as a group and just take advice from the gaffer and the coaches. There is a really good youth system at Hearts and there are good players coming through. We all try to train well and then do our best on matchdays. It’s brilliant to play under the gaffer and I’m really enjoying it this year.”