As the elder statesman of the Hearts squad, goalkeeper Neil Alexander is experienced enough to know when not to get carried away.
Expectation levels have soared following his team’s winning start to the Ladbrokes Premiership season, but the player-goalkeeping coach is careful to convey the need for his team-mates ‘keep the heid’ with the season only weeks old.
Following last Saturday’s emphatic 3-0 home win over Partick Thistle, new recruit Juwon Oshaniwa was particularly bullish in stating his belief that his new team has what it takes to be serious contenders for the Premiership crown.
Alexander is more familiar with the Scottish football landscape and the cynical response Oshaniwa’s comments are likely to draw from certain quarters. While the former Rangers goalkeeper welcomes his colleague’s enthusiastic approach, he admitted – light heartedly – that such forthright predictions should probably be reigned in a bit at this stage.
“There are times you need to pull him aside and say: ‘Look, calm down, there is still a long way to go’, said the 37-year-old. “He has not played in Scottish football before, we’ve not played Celtic, Dundee United, Aberdeen and Inverness yet. A few of the boys have mentioned that in the dressing-room and the manager has said it as well.
“He’s just excited, we’ve started well and it is easy to get carried away but we need to be realistic, there is a long way to go. He’s come here, we’re winning, the fans are enjoying it and everyone is really hyped up. It’s understandable.
“But we all know what Scottish football is like, we know what’s ahead of us. It’s going to be a tough, long winter, the pitches won’t be great and neither will the weather so we’ll see how we go after that. He can get carried away at the end of the season as much as he wants if we finish strongly and we have done well. I must say I love his enthusiasm and that, but yeah, just calm down.”
Oshaniwa is part of a new-look back four in front of Alexander this season, one that has a more international flavour than last season. Pole Blazej Augustyn and Brazillian Igor Rossi have both partnered captain Alim Ozturk in central defence and despite a tricky period of adjustment, Alexander feels an understanding is beginning to develop in the Hearts rearguard. “It is tough at first but it just takes time. Football is a universal language so boys have played before and know their jobs.
“It was a bit worrying at first because we never had the same back four twice, but we’re starting to get a bit more settled and we are getting an understanding now, which is good. You can see that on the pitch, we are keeping a few clean sheets and defending well which is pleasing. There is a lot of hard work done on the training ground during the week with the back four – it’s starting to pay off.
“Last year as well we scored a lot of goals but we kept a lot of clean sheets and defended really well. There is a lot of stuff that goes on on the training ground that goes unnoticed and you reap the rewards on the Saturday.
“We did bring in a lot of new players and sometimes it takes time for them to settle and gel but they’ve come in and done really well. They’ve embraced what the manager is looking for and have bought into it and we’ve been able to carry on that fantastic winning mentality, which bodes well for the future. Hopefully we can carry that on.”
Martin Canning’s Hamilton must be overcome this afternoon if the Jam Tars are to maintain their winning run going into next week’s international break. Three points would ensure another fortnight atop the league table but again, Alexander stresses the need to maintain focus regardless of the result at New Douglas Park today.
“The boys don’t get carried away when we lose and they don’t get carried away when we win,” he added. “It’s literally the old cliché – one game at a time – the manager stresses that. Every game is going to be a tough game, so we need to take it one game at a time.
“We have a really tough game at Hamilton, on a surface which can sometimes prove difficult but we played on similar plenty of times last season. We’ve stepped up a grade into the big league and every game is a battle, but we’ll go there full of confidence.”