Hearts' Jamie Walker: It's a worry we are becoming detached - every player must step up
Midfielder feels heads drop too easily when first goal is conceded
Jamie Walker insists every player at Hearts must step up and take more responsibility to improve their grim plight as the relegation-threatened Tynecastle side prepare for two crucial fixtures this week.
Daniel Stendel’s team are joint-bottom of the Scottish Premiership with Hamilton Accies after winning only two of their 17 matches so far.
They face champions Celtic at Tynecastle tomorrow and then head to Lanarkshire to face Accies on Saturday. Defeat in both matches would leave them three points adrift at the foot of the table on Christmas Day.
A home loss to St Johnstone in Stendel’s first match in charge on Saturday made it five games in a row without a win, and Walker admits his team are in desperate need of inspiration.
“I think everyone’s just looking at each other waiting for something to happen - we all need to take more control as individuals and look to make things happen,” he told the Evening News. “Saturday’s game was there to be won. In the first half we were miles the better team. But it was the same at Motherwell the previous week. We were the better team for 20 minutes and then after we concede a goal it feels like we just go under. I think it’s a bit of everything that’s going wrong for us at the moment. We’re conceding slack goals - it was a free header at a corner on Saturday - and we’re not really scoring goals or even creating many chances either.
“It’s a worry that we’ve become a bit detached with Hamilton at the bottom. We started the season poorly and I think people thought because it’s Hearts, we’d start picking up results but it’s not happened. There’s no getting away from the situation we’re in. We just need to keep working hard and hopefully the manager can get over what he wants from us in the next few weeks. There’s a lot for him to work on.”
Even though Stendel’s first game didn’t go to plan, Walker is hopeful that the German’s influence and style of play can help get Hearts moving in the right direction. “I don’t think it’s too early for the new manager’s arrival to have an impact because we’ve seen it before when a new manager comes in and straight away a team starts winning, but it’s not always like that,” he said. “He got some of his ideas across last week and we tried to put them into Saturday’s game but it never really came off. Hopefully over the coming weeks we can take on board what he wants to do and put it into games.
“I’ve spoken to him quite a bit and he just wants to press high up the pitch, win the ball high and hopefully score a lot of goals. He’s been good with the boys so far. Training’s been at a good tempo so we were confident going into Saturday’s game but unfortunately it didn’t happen.”
Stendel is renowned for playing a high press. Walker explained that the new manager has a couple of specific formations he plans to play at Hearts. On Saturday, he switched between 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1. “His main points in the first few days were more about how he wanted to press and how he wanted the team to shape up rather than patterns of play and things like that,” said Walker. “He’s only been in since last Tuesday so hopefully we can work on a few more things either side of the Celtic game this week.
“Pressing is the most important part of how he wants us to play so I’m sure he’s going to give us more ideas about how we can do that. I think he puts more emphasis on pressing than we’ve had before although I thought we pressed pretty well in the St Mirren game under Austin (MacPhee).
“Daniel only has two ways that he wants to play and no matter where we’re playing and who we’re playing, we’ll play one of those formations, so that’s good because we’d chopped and changed formations a lot over the previous four or five games.”
Hearts continue to be without key quartet Steven Naismith, Conor Washington, Peter Haring and John Souttar, while Walker and Craig Halkett have only recently returned from long-term injury. Walker, who is yet to rediscover his best form, explained that he is still feeling the effects fitness-wise of his recent two-and-a-half-month lay-off.
“The injuries haven’t helped us at all,” said Walker, ruefully. “We’ve still got a few big players out and a few of the boys that are playing, including myself, are just back from long-term injuries. Over the last few weeks I’ve struggled fitness-wise, although I felt a bit better on Saturday. Hopefully over the coming weeks I can get my fitness and sharpness back.”