New challenge for Hearts as Gary Mackay-Steven predicts attractive football
Watching Hearts players celebrate long after the final whistle on Saturday, their camaraderie was clear.
They showed a certain resilience to win the Championship title despite some stinging criticism throughout the season. They joked and laughed together on the Tynecastle pitch after receiving the trophy following a convincing 3-0 win against Inverness.
That bond will be critical in the Premiership, as will the attacking swagger which carved open the Highlanders. The need for key men like Gary Mackay-Steven to replicate Saturday’s performance on a regular basis cannot be overstated either.
This was the forward’s best outing in maroon since arriving in January. He scored twice, was involved in the other goal by Aaron McEneff, and generally tormented opponents with his constant movement, trickery, pace and eye for goal. Inverness simply couldn’t live with him.
Plenty Premiership teams would also struggle if Mackay-Steven can reproduce this form consistently next season. That is the challenge – for him and every one of his team-mates. “We're a massive club with massive expectations,” he said.
“We've had a lot of performances where we have not played as well as we would have liked, but we know we have got good players in our dressing room and we know what we can do on our day. We've never dropped our heads or lost our confidence.
“Saturday was a little taster to remind people we can play. Going forward we will be confident we can do some big things next season. There's a lot of talented players in our dressing room.
“We want to play football the right way. We have a lot of players who can get the ball down and play attractive football. The staff work so hard. It's a big achievement winning this league. With the fans here that will add another dimension that will help the team.
"Going forward, there are exciting times at this club. We'll do all right and I don't think there's too much to worry about. We'll rest up, but the boys are confident that when we play big games we do show up.
“There's a lot of good teams in the Championship. I have played at various levels and I know we have really good players in the dressing room. I know the staff are good because we work with them day in, day out.
“There's a lot to look forward to basically. There are big things going forward and I feel we will show we can play really attractive football next season for sure.
“Saturday was probably the best I've felt since coming here. It's not an easy league, but it was nice to get the monkey off my back by scoring the first goal. We played some good football and the pitch was in good condition. Inverness coming out to play helped us too.”
Many Hearts fans remain unconvinced about the team’s long-term prospects despite Mackay-Steven’s optimism. “We're not after praise. At the end of the day, it's a trophy we have won and next season we are back where we feel we belong. We move on,” he explained.
“Confidence in the dressing room has never dropped and never wavered from what we wanted to achieve and thankfully we have done that. We'll go again next year.”