Jamie Walker ran half the length of Tynecastle Park celebrating after his exquisite free-kick hit the net for Hearts against Hamilton Academical.
A fist pump and an emotional roar of joy underlined the winger’s passion for the cause, for he is somewhat revitalised after a summer of discontent.
Rangers’ attempts to lure Walker to Ibrox during July and August unsettled him, resulting in a loss of form and confidence which then prompted questions over his commitment to Hearts. Much as he tried, he struggled to block out the incessant noise as all around him reached fever pitch.
With Christmas approaching, the sight of Walker getting back to his best on the field is a welcome gift for the Hearts support. He was outstanding against Ross County ten days ago, and his curling 22-yard free-kick plus emphatic celebration at the weekend was like old times once again.
Whether he stays in Gorgie beyond the expiry of his contract next summer remains to be seen. However, with his club winless in their last six matches, the talismanic No.7 is recapturing form at a crucial juncture.
“Everyone knows that, for the last six months, I’ve not been at my best. I don’t think the team has either, to be fair,” Walker told the Evening News. “I’m always delighted when I score a goal. With a goal like that on Saturday, it’s even better. I always fancy myself to score from a dead ball around the edge of the box. I scored a free-kick against Hamilton at Tynecastle last year, so that was in my head. Luckily I struck it well and it went in.
“I don’t think I’ve scored a better free-kick than that. It’s certainly one of the better goals in my career. I’m just delighted to be back on form. Hopefully that’s me playing well again.”
Walker remained coy about his contract situation. Rangers’ interest is unknown since they sacked manager Pedro Caixinha, who tried to tempt the 24-year-old west. Walker is focused on his immediate future and trying to improve Hearts’ fortunes.
“I love playing here,” he continued. “The contract I rejected was one I didn’t think was suitable for me and my family. That’s all. As I’ve said, I’ll keep trying to play well and keep going forward from here. I’ve played about 170 games for Hearts now. I just need to see what comes in January. You need the team to be playing well on the pitch as that’s what attracts the bigger clubs. I’m delighted to be playing here and hopefully I can keep scoring goals.
“There’s been so much said and people have had so many opinions. I’ve just been wanting to get back playing well and scoring goals like I did on Saturday. I want more.”
He has reluctantly accepted his future being played out in public and intensely debated as a result. “I’m fine with it. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, it’s whether you want to take it on board or just brush it off. In life generally, people will have opinions all the time. You just keep your head down and keep working hard. Hopefully, the rewards will come like they did for me at the weekend.
“Over the last couple of years, social media and all that stuff has become more common. It’s part of the game and something you just need to deal with these days.
“Over the summer, things didn’t really go well. It was hard, plus I had a few little injuries. I’m delighted to be back playing well now and I just want it to continue.”
Both Hearts and Walker will hope for a more sombre affair this weekend when Motherwell visit the redeveloped Tynecastle Park for the first time. The 1-1 draw with Hamilton was overshadowed by disorder on and off the field as Hearts defender Jamie Brandon, manager Craig Levein and coach Austin MacPhee were all dismissed by referee Bobby Madden.
Brandon was red carded for a second booking when he elbowed Antonio Rojano, Levein protested at decisions and MacPhee became embroiled in a bizarre altercation with Hamilton midfielder Darian MacKinnon – which ended with both men on the ground inside the technical area.
“I don’t remember being involved in a game like that before,” admitted Walker. “I saw Neil Lennon saying something about Hamilton last week, but I think it’s part of the game and it’s how they play. You just need to deal with it. I thought we did reasonably well with ten men, other than the silly goal that we lost. We did ride our luck a little but we’re disappointed not to get the three points.”
The winger played no part in the chaos, preferring to keep himself out of the limelight.
“I was standing out on the pitch somewhere, I think,” he smiled. “MacKinnon had a wee barge with Austin and he was already on a yellow card, so I don’t know how he escaped that one. As I said, it’s all part of the game. We’re just disappointed we didn’t win.
“Even when we went down to ten men, we still passed the ball around well. I thought we started the second half very well so it was frustrating not to get three points.”