The pain in Jamie Walker’s left knee is still niggling as we speak, but he is desperate to declare himself fit.
The Hearts winger is acutely aware of the magnitude of Sunday’s match with Aberdeen at Tynecastle. Yesterday was his first training session this week due to knee pain, however he fully intends to play.
Hearts have lost twice in succession and need their key players this weekend. Walker certainly falls into that bracket. He is, arguably, their most creative influence and was clearly missed from the starting line-up at Inverness last week. Aberdeen arrive in Edinburgh like a juggernaut with seven wins from seven league matches and sitting proudly five points ahead of Celtic at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership. It’s a game no-one wants to miss.
Walker admits he isn’t 100 per cent and is still feeling discomfort from the injury. He tried training at Riccarton yesterday and will train again today before making a decision on his fitness. Given Hearts failed to record a shot on target at Inverness, his presence would be a huge boost to head coach Robbie Neilson.
“There is a doubt there. It’s a big game and I’ll try my best to be available,” Walker told the Evening News. “Aberdeen have started well, they’ve won every game this season and we’ve been playing well at home. I really want to be playing on Sunday. I hadn’t trained all week but I gave it a try yesterday. Hopefully I’ll be in contention.”
Ironically, the injured left knee is a result of a knock to the right knee. “It was against Dundee in the second game of the season. I hurt my right knee and that lead to trouble with my left. I think I was overcompensating on that side and ended up getting pain on the left side. It hasn’t really gone away since then, although it’s settled down a bit now. I’ll see how it is over today and tomorrow and see how I am for Sunday.”
It is quite some time since a visit from Aberdeen drew so much attention in Gorgie. The Pittodrie club haven’t won there in more than five years, however they are now made of sterner stuff under Derek McInnes. A 100 per cent start to the new campaign signals their intent to mount a sustained title challenge.
Hearts’ opening to season 2015/16 has also exceeded expectations. They won their first five fixtures to silence those predicting that the newly-promoted team would struggle. Performances away from home remain a point of contention and there is still some lingering frustration from defeats against Hamilton and Inverness in the last two matches.
At Tynecastle, they are a force to be reckoned with. Only four of their last 30 home games have ended with defeat. “At home, we’re capable of beating anyone,” said Walker.
“This will be tough. Aberdeen are strong at the back and up front they have [Adam] Rooney, who is scoring for fun. We need everyone playing at their best on Sunday if we’re going to get the three points.
“Aberdeen have seven wins out of seven and, in any league, that’s good going. They beat the champions as well. We’re playing well at home, so it’s got the makings of a good game. It will be a sellout again and the atmosphere will be fantastic. We’re looking to put on a performance for the fans because we haven’t been good enough in the last couple of weeks.
“The boys are still confident. After seven games, we’re only a point behind Celtic and they were the champions last season. We haven’t played well in the last two matches and I’m not really sure what’s happened. We’ve still been working hard, we’ve just been unable to create much in the final third.
“Against Hamilton, we were 2-1 up and then came the red card [for Callum Paterson]. Even in the first half of that game I didn’t think we were all that great. We’ve put a lot of work in this week so everyone is looking forward to Sunday. If we can take three points against Aberdeen, we’ll be right back up there.”
Hearts must rediscover their scoring touch in order to do so. The free-scoring tendency shown last month was lacking in the Highlands. Walker’s persisting injury didn’t help as he was restricted to a substitute’s role.
“From the start of the season, no matter how many goals the other team scored, we looked like we would score more,” he admitted. “That’s not happened for us over the last couple of weeks and we’ve struggled to create many chances. We didn’t even manage a shot on target at Inverness. We’ve worked on that this week because we want to score a few on Sunday.
“Stevie Crawford [Neilson’s assistant] works with the strikers all the time. It just takes a few drills on the training pitch, making them as game-related as possible. That helps us so we want to take that into Sunday.”
The absence of other important players shouldn’t be overlooked when analysing Hearts’ last two results. Midfielder Morgaro Gomis didn’t travel to Inverness because of a family bereavement. Polish centre-back Blazej Augustyn’s hernia surgery has sidelined him for six weeks, whilst the Spaniard Miguel Pallardo has yet to feature this season due to an Achilles problem.
“We’ve been missing a few players, like Morgaro who has been a big part of the team over the last year. Hopefully we can get him back for Sunday,” said Walker.
“Blazej will be fit and hopefully I’ll be available, so we should have a strong squad to pick from.”