Jamie Walker: 'If you told me in summer Hearts would be bottom by November, I'd have said you were mad'
Forward urges team-mates to take responsibility and turn season round
Hearts’ last league victory at Tynecastle Park was back on March 30. Such a sequence will always result in trouble, hence their position at the foot of the Ladbrokes Premiership alongside tomorrow’s guests, St Mirren. Make no mistake, even this early in the campaign when Christmas trees have yet to be pulled from lofts, this match is critical.
Craig Levein lost his job last week as a consequence of truly horrid form both at home and away. Austin MacPhee is interim manager as the club seek a permanent replacement. The likes of Jamie Walker, Steven Naismith, Glenn Whelan and Loic Damour did not join Hearts in the summer to participate in relegation battles, so winning tomorrow is vital to spark a resurgence.
Indeed, if told back in June that Hearts would be bottom of the table in November, the reaction of those above would likely have been laughter. “If someone had said that, I’d probably tell them they were mad,” admitted Walker. “I’d have said: ‘No chance.’ But that’s the situation we are in now. Hopefully we can use this game tomorrow to kickstart our season.
“It’s probably going to be quite a nervous atmosphere around the ground. It’s up to the boys who start the game to take it on the chin. If things aren’t going well, you have to keep getting on the ball and keep trying to make things happen.
“The season so far has been disappointing. The old gaffer lost his job and everyone, including myself, need to take some responsibility for it. We can’t get too down, we have to keep working hard. Hopefully Saturday is the first win of many.”
Just back from a broken leg, Walker is understandably concerned about his team’s predicament but he saw seen far darker days than these during his previous spell in Gorgie.
In November 2012, the Lithuanian board in charge of Hearts issued a statement warning fans that the next game could be the club’s last having received a winding up order over a £450,000 tax bill. St Mirren were the opponents then as well. Walker played, Hearts won 1-0 and subsequently survived.
“We played St Mirren a few years back when it could have been the last game for the club. The boys just need to look at this as a normal match,” he stated. “It’s tough at a club like Hearts because this isn’t the position you want to be in. That’s why we are footballers. We need to take on that responsibility, use it to our advantage and get the crowd behind us.”
St Mirren last won at Tynecastle in October 2013, although their two league victories this season is double what Hearts have managed to date. The return of Walker as a creative attacking influence is particularly timely.
He featured as a substitute for the first time since his injury against St Johnstone last Wednesday – which transpired as Levein’s last match as manager. Walker was then an unused sub against Rangers in Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final. He is ready to start tomorrow.
“I was disappointed I didn’t get on last Sunday,” he remarked. “When I look at the bigger picture, it has worked out well for me. I’ve been able to get my first full week of training without any midweek games. I’ve had a good week and I’m ready to play if Austin picks me.
“I’m actually feeling quite good. I’ve had injuries before and taken a while to come back but I feel good right now. I was getting scans every two weeks and the bone was healing well so I was able to come back quite quickly. It’s just minutes on the pitch I need to get back up to speed.”
Training sessions this week have taken place at Barnetts Park, home of the junior club St Andrews United. MacPhee wanted different surroundings to prepare Hearts for such an important fixture and the trip to Fife has been worthwhile, according to Walker.
“Training has been good. We have got away for a few days and Austin has got his ideas over, so it’s been enjoyable,” explained the forward.
MacPhee’s chances of staking a genuine claim for the job on a permanent basis may rest largely on tomorrow’s outcome. His planning has gone down well, now he and Hearts need an end result.
“I’ve trained with Austin this week and I’ve liked it,” said Walker. “He puts different ideas across and the boys have bought into it. He is the man in charge just now and you never know what might happen if he picks up a few wins. We need to leave that down to the club and see what happens over the next few weeks.
“Austin has been here under Ian Cathro and Craig Levein. Every coach has their own ideas. I think that’s why we came to St Andrews this week. Austin has got his points across quite well and I think the boys have taken them on board. Hopefully it comes to fruition on Saturday.”