GARY LOCKE’S demand for more creativity from Hearts struck a chord with Jamie Walker. As a winger, the 20-year-old considers it his job to add flair and panache to his team and provide goalscoring chances.
Those commodities were glaringly absent at McDiarmid Park on Sunday as Hearts opened the new season with a 1-0 defeat from St Johnstone and only one shot on target. Walker took it rather personally.
Not that he is the only one responsible for prising open opposition defences. If Hearts are to have any chance of overhauling their 15-point deficit in the new Premiership table, everyone involved must take collective responsibility. Walker, though, is eager to improve his own performance level and recapture the form which impressed so many last season – his first as a senior player.
Sunday would seem the ideal platform. Hibs’ visit to Tynecastle is eagerly awaited for many reasons, not least since both Edinburgh clubs lost their first league matches to St Johnstone and Motherwell respectively. Walker will be out to lift his game and once again be the menacing player who tormented defenders last term.
In a young and inexperienced Hearts team, he finds himself a key player and first-team regular despite only emerging from his teens as recently as June. That brings pressure on its own but the player is unperturbed about what lies ahead. He is focused purely on the derby and showcasing his true talent.
“I thought my own performance was okay but, obviously, I’m a wide player and we need to create more chances to score. I need to do better than that,” said Walker, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “There is no natural striker [in the squad] so that puts more pressure on us to create chances and get goals. I welcome that pressure but I certainly need to play batter than I did at St Johnstone.
“We will be up against hard, experienced boys throughout the season so we need to grow up quickly. We can’t give away silly goals because that’s what cost us the three points at McDiarmid Park.
“There was nothing much in the game but we never really created anything at all throughout the 90 minutes. That’s something we need to work on before the derby. We always work on crossing and finishing and things like that during the week at training but we never had one clear-cut chance against St Johnstone, so we obviously need to work on it more before the Hibs game.”
With Hibs under pressure due to poor results, in particular Malmo’s 7-0 Europa League qualifying win at Easter Road, and Hearts burdened by administration, a points deduction and transfer embargo, neither club have their troubles to seek. This weekend would provide some welcome respite for any side which can emerge victorious.
“Edinburgh derbies are always good games but I think we just need to worry about ourselves,” said Walker. “Hibs lost on Sunday as well. It’s a massive game, probably our biggest game of the season. We’ll have a huge crowd behind us at Tynecastle and everyone is looking forward to it. The fans were unbelievable again in Perth and they’ll be backing us all season. This weekend we need to create more openings to get a better performance and, hopefully, a better result. We can’t let our heads go down, we need to stay positive. Our performance needs to improve.”
The sense of togetherness fostered by the Hearts manager Gary Locke and his coaching staff is evident within the corridors of Riccarton. Sunday showed it is also present on the field, although the restrictions facing Locke are gargantuan as he attempts to keep his club in Scotland’s top flight. Walker believes home form is the key to survival. Results in Gorgie may ultimately decide Hearts’ fate come next May.
“Picking up points at home is a must,” he explained. “We are looking to win most of our games at Tynecastle and also pick up a few points on the road as well. That’s the only way to close that gap and get closer to the other teams in the league.
“That’s what it’s going to take, every game is a cup final. We need to start picking up points quickly because every game we play is one less opportunity to get points and make up ground. We want points on the board as quickly as possible and that starts on Sunday. There isn’t much between all the teams in the league, apart from Celtic.”
The youthful appearance of the Hearts first team naturally leads to doubts over the players’ ability to haul themselves upwards and back in amongst the other clubs in the league. Whilst acknowledging that a lack of experience is problematical, Walker stressed the positives of having a young squad dominated by graduates of the Riccarton youth academy.
“We are all a bit inexperienced, however we’ve got good legs and there’s good ability there. We need to use that to our advantage,” he said. “Everyone is in it together this season and, as a young kid, you’re learning something new every day. It’s a great experience. I’ve worked with John Robertson and the rest of the attacking players and I want to keep working with him. Hopefully he can teach us a few things and we can take it into the derby on Sunday.”