Michael Smith feels there is much to correct on Sunday when Hearts host Kilmarnock at BT Murrayfield. The Northern Irish full-back is unhappy with his own and his team’s form and admits the situation must be addressed.
This should be Hearts’ final game at the Scottish Rugby base as the redeveloped Tynecastle is due to open for their next Premiership fixture, at home to Partick Thistle on November 19.
Smith is eager to ensure they return to their spiritual home and begin a run of six consecutive matches there with a win behind them. After disappointing losses against Hibs and Rangers, he explained the need to rebuild momentum and improve on a personal note.
“I’ve probably underperformed for the last month or so,” said the summer signing from Peterborough United. “I thought I settled in really quickly after I arrived. I played well up until the last three or four games. I haven’t been quite myself in those matches but the team haven’t been up there either.
“We haven’t performed at our peak levels yet, but that will come. Once we click together we’ll be a real force to be reckoned with. That’s going to come sooner rather than later.
“Hopefully, I’ll start picking up form now, along with the team. We need to go on a good run starting this weekend. Going into an international break, if you get the three points then you’re confident whenever the domestic games start again. We’ll be at Tynecastle then so hopefully it will be the start of something good.
“Having so many away games like this has never happened before so it will help the team going back to Tynecastle. It will help the club, the fans will enjoy it and I’m sure they can’t wait to get back home as well.”
Much analysing has been done inside Riccarton over the last few days as manager Craig Levein and his staff try to rectify what went wrong against Hibs and Rangers.
“The last two results have been really disappointing,” said Smith. “We’ve looked back over it, we know the mistakes we made and we know we haven’t played well enough.
“We fought well in the first half against Rangers but we collapsed a little bit in the second half, which is not really like us. It’s the first time it’s happened this year. We’re not really down about it. It was a bad game but you have to forget about it. We’re confident we can get the win on Sunday.
“Getting a good victory before the international break and the return to Tynecastle is massive for us.”
Most of Hearts’ recent arrivals aren’t complete strangers to Tynecastle, of course. Two Betfred League Cup ties there against East Fife and Dunfermline in July at least gave them a flavour of what to expect.
Nonetheless, the prospect of a capacity 20,000 crowd and a plush new main stand are mouthwatering for all concerned.
“It’ll be nice with the new stand open and hopefully it will be a packed-out stadium,” stated Smith. “Murrayfield is good but I’m hearing the atmosphere at Tynecastle is a lot different and a lot better. The fans are right on your backs, so it will be great to get home. It will put a bit of fear into our opponents.
“I enjoyed the two games I played there. The result against Dunfermline wasn’t great but I enjoyed playing at home. I can’t wait for the new stand to open to get the full crowd in.”
Levein’s mindset is similar. He has spoken many times about his desire to get back to Tynecastle in recent weeks. However, he offered a cautionary note today that no-one should assume it will instantly solve all the club’s problems.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to playing at our own stadium. That’s the next big thing and I think everybody feels the same,” explained the manager.
“It’s been quite hard work at times, without the comfort of that home fixture every second week. We just have to be fully concentrated on Sunday against Kilmarnock and see if we can go back there on the back of a victory, which would be pleasing.
“We haven’t spoken about being back at Tynecastle because I don’t think there’s any point just now. Whatever happens when we get back there, it just feels better. That’s all. It’s not a quick fix as such. We still have to do the work, that’s for sure.”
Levein has been forced to utilise Smith’s versatility this season by deploying him at left-back on occasions. Ashley Smith-Brown’s persistent injury issues and Rafal Grzelak’s erratic form have combined to create a problem on the opposite flank to which Smith is accustomed.
“I’m a right-back but I’ve been asked to play left-back,” said the defender. “Ash has had a few niggling injuries and they’ve just kept on going. Rafal, I don’t know if it’s taking him time to settle in, but he’ll come good. He’s a good player. We’ve got a good squad but if the gaffer wants me to play left-back then I’ll do it.
“Jamie Brandon can also play there. He’s a good player and I like him. We’ve got different options so it’s whatever the gaffer chooses to try and get the three points on Sunday.”
Kilmarnock will have issues of their own to resolve in Edinburgh. Tuesday’s 3-0 loss against Hibs was the first defeat under new manager Steve Clarke.
“When I heard about that appointment, I thought: ‘Wow, it’s fantastic for them.’ Their results picked up away to Celtic and Rangers and fair play to them,” said Smith “They’ll be hard to break down because Steve will have them solid.
“I think they play two banks of four and are hard to get through. They will hit you on the counter-attack. We need to look after ourselves. We have to perform a bit better and score a few more goals.
“I played against the big lad Lee Erwin up front when he was at Oldham. He’s a bit of a handful, he’s a big lad.
“I’ll let Christophe Berra take care of him ..”