Michael Smith: Hearts should be aiming for top four in the Premiership
Michael Smith believes Hearts should be looking to re-establish themselves as a top-four Premiership club.
The Northern Irishman knows the minimum aim for next season is a place in the top six, but he is convinced the Edinburgh club ought to be among the top four.
They last achieved that aim five years ago by finishing third during Robbie Neilson’s first spell as manager. Neilson has now overseen the return to the top flight after leaving Dundee United last summer for a second term at Tynecastle Park.
Hearts received the Championship trophy after beating Inverness Caledonian Thistle 3-0 on Saturday. Looking ahead to next term, Smith is keen to build on the success.
“We have to start strong next season. The players we bring in will hopefully help us to firstly push for the top six, but this club should definitely be top four,” said the right-back.
“It's a good feeling but we were expected to win the league. Everybody wanted to beat us, we were everybody's cup final, but we got there in the end. We had some good days and bad days but we are looking forward to next season now.”
Playing with a three-man defence, Hearts have now kept four successive clean sheets. “We might have found a shape now that suits us,” explained Smith.
“Getting Pete [Haring] and Soapy [John Souttar] back really helps us. We will bring a few bodies in and see where it takes us for next season.
“We will enjoy this but it's all about next season now. When we got relegated, it was handled horrendously. You know our feelings on it as a club. We've answered our critics and got back up first time, which isn't easy to do.
“We definitely deserved to go up. We've been up and down this season but we've dug in there and put in some decent performances.”
Asked why Hearts have struggled at times against lesser opponents this term, Smith replied: “They want to make the game ugly. You see what we can do on a great pitch like Saturday. We can really tear teams apart.
“Teams wanting to make games ugly is tough. Fair play to teams like that, it's their right to do that against us, but overall I think we deserved to win the league.”
He also explained why the players agreed to lift the Championship trophy rather than leave it on the stand as some fans wanted.
“We had a discussion and decided it was probably right to lift the trophy. There was no big celebration about it – just lift the trophy and respect all the other teams who tried to win the league.
“I know there were all the ifs and buts about it but we have worked hard this year and we had to respect our opponents. You don't win medals every day and it is nice but it's hard to put into words what has gone on over the past year or so.
“I think it was right for us to lift the trophy and that has put it to bed now. We are just looking forward now.”