CALLUM PATERSON and Kevin McHattie enjoyed lunch together in Edinburgh yesterday. Next time they meet will be on the Tynecastle pitch at around 2.55pm tomorrow. Paterson is determined to come out on top in a good-natured one-v-one duel with his mate.
The Hearts right-back is well known for his attacking instincts and plans to venture forward when possible to take on McHattie, who is expected to line-up at left-back for visitors Kilmarnock. Their close friendship will be put aside for the afternoon despite yesterday’s fraternising.
Both players met up along with former team-mate Brad McKay in a gathering of three men who established a lifelong friendship during their years at Riccarton.
McKay left Hearts for St Johnstone in the summer, whilst McHattie decamped to Rugby Park just four weeks ago. Paterson misses his friends but knows there is an indestructible bond between all three. Whatever happens tomorrow, its durability won’t even be put to the test.
“I met up with Kev and Brad for lunch but it’s just as friends. We don’t discuss the game or anything because that’s your time to enjoy your life outside of football and sit and have a bite to eat together,” said Paterson in an exclusive Evening News interview.
“When tomorrow comes and the referee’s whistle blows, it’s friendship aside and all guns blazing.
“All three of us joined Hearts in the exact same week as teenagers [in 2010]. We’ve been through everything together, making debuts, playing together in the same team, administration, then relegation and then promotion last season.
“There’s always been a massive bond between us. We were friends outside of football as well. I was a bit gutted when the two of them left but they’re moving on with their careers and they’re doing well at their clubs.
“I haven’t played against Kev yet so tomorrow will be a weird experience. It’s good to play against players you’ve played with before. You’re friends off the park but when the whistle blows it’s all down to business.”
So will it be Paterson running at McHattie with the ball, or McHattie scampering forward at Paterson?
“I’ll see how he feels. I’ll ask him before the game,” smiled Paterson, who has three goals from 12 appearances already this season. “No, seriously, I’m looking to keep doing what I’m doing, grab another couple of assists or maybe a goal.”
Several other Kilmarnock employees will step off the team bus onto familiar territory tomorrow afternoon. Manager Gary Locke takes a team to his former place of work for the first time since he was replaced as Hearts manager by Robbie Neilson some 16 months ago.
In tow will be Jamie Hamill, Jamie MacDonald, Mark Ridgers, Scott Robinson, Conrad Balatoni and McHattie. Dale Carrick is out injured, but the rest have plenty to prove.
Paterson explained why there will always be a closeness between those in both camps who fought together to keep Hearts alive during their darkest days two years ago.
“There’s always going to be a bond between those guys. The administration was such a difficult time for everybody, especially the older boys who had families, mortgages, cars and everything to pay.
“Hearts is a massive club and it’s only going to get bigger. I’m thankful to still be here. I’m working hard to keep my position and stay here for the future.”
Locke was the public face of the Edinburgh club back then and did much to help guide Paterson and other teenagers through the difficulties.
“I thought he was a great coach,” said Paterson. “When he took over from John McGlynn, he could easily have looked at me and said: ‘John put that young boy into the team, I’ll just leave him on the sidelines or put him out on loan.’ He stuck with me and I hope I repaid him with a couple of goals when he was here. I’ve got a lot to thank him for.
“He wanted me to do a job for the team up front so that’s what I did. He knew I was predominantly a right midfielder or a right-back. If anything, playing up front added more to my game because I got to see the game from a different perspective.
“Gary coached me more in an attacking sense, whereas Robbie has coached me as a defender. Both of them helped me. I enjoyed it up front but my time up there is done. I’m playing right-back now and I’m concentrating on that.
“Everyone was writing Kilmarnock off at the start of the season but they’ve gelled together. Gary has done a good job there and they were on a wee run of form up until last week. They’ll be looking to get back to that but Tynecastle is a bit of a fortress and it has been in the past for us.”
Kilmarnock won three out of four games before a 3-2 loss against Hearts in last week’s League Cup tie, followed by last Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat against Hamilton. Hearts’ form picked up with that cup success and continued with a tenacious defensive display in the 0-0 at Celtic Park last weekend.
“It’s been a long time since we kept a clean sheet, so that’s a positive,” said Paterson. “We knew at the start we had conceded a ridiculous amount of goals at Celtic Park and only scored once in six years there, so keeping a clean sheet against them was a really good result.
“People are still using the excuse that we’re a new back four and haven’t played together a lot. We’ve played a good few games together now so we need to cut out the goals we’re conceding.
Saturday against Kilmarnock is a massive game. We haven’t been on the best run of form in the league recently but we want to show that’s just a minor blip in the timeline. It would have been nice to get a really big result and win last week, especially when Sam [Nicholson] was going through with a chance to score near the end.
“As the gaffer said, it was a great piece of football from Efe Ambrose to keep his team in the game [by fouling Nicholson and earning a red card for denying a clear scoring opportunity].
“It wasn’t to be, so now we have a chance for three points on Saturday.”
The theme of the day will v ery much be “friends reunited”. Sentiment won’t play any part during the 90 minutes, however.