Peter Haring is getting far more than he expected from his move to Scotland. Hearts are top of the league, unbeaten in 12 games and into the semi-finals of a national cup competition, yet the calendar is still only showing September. Haring has barely had time to draw breath since arriving from the Austrian second division in June.
He smiles contentedly when asked about the prosperity. With long hair tied back in a bun revealing his youthful facial features, he could easily be mistaken for a teenage tearaway. At 25, he is mature enough to know all about football’s fickle tendencies. Haring is acutely aware Hearts must keep momentum.
Wednesday’s climactic Betfred Cup win against Motherwell was celebrated long into the Gorgie night as it set up a last-four meeting with Celtic in a competition Hearts have not won for 56 years. Carrying the merriment into tomorrow’s Premiership meeting with St Johnstone is just as important to keep the Edinburgh club’s five-point lead atop the table.
It is fair to say Haring is revelling in the intensity of his new workplace. “Everything has gone by really quickly,” he said. “If you would have told me that we would have 16 points after six games, I think everyone would have signed up for that. Now we are in the semi-finals. When I first came here and had talks with the gaffer and Austin MacPhee, they told me that the standards at Hearts are high and that we want to win titles. I am happy that everything has gone so well, so far. It has been really good but now we have to think about Saturday because that is going to be another important game and we want to win again.”
He has never played a semi-final before and, having scored in the quarter-final, is entitled to think momentarily ahead to next month’s meeting with Celtic. The venue – Hampden Park or BT Murrayfield – is irrelevant to Haring. “I have never been in a cup semi-final so this will be my first time. I am really looking forward to it.
“I don’t know if it would change anything if we had to play at Murrayfield rather than Hampden. I don’t really care. I have never played in either stadium and I am just looking forward to playing in a semi-final. If we don’t play at Hampden, we will have to win and then we will play at Hampden in the final. That is the most important thing. We are now in the semi-final but we want to get to the final.”
His goal on Wednesday night put Hearts 2-1 ahead after they were 1-0 down against Motherwell. Signed as a centre-back and now thriving in midfield, Haring looked like a predatory striker sniffing around the six-yard area for a chance. There was reason behind his instinctive positioning.
“I told Soapy [John Souttar] that when I saw he was going to hit the ball, I know that he never hits the target,” smiled Haring, recalling Souttar’s first-time volley which rolled into his path. “He always hits it left so I hoped that the ball would come there. It was a little bit of anticipation and knowledge of my team-mates.”
The understanding developing within this Hearts group is partly why they are a force to be reckoned with. They now welcome St Johnstone for a third home game in a week. “We are doing well so far, but in three days we have seen two completely different performances from us as a team,” cautioned Haring. “We always have to play with that energy, like Wednesday. If we do a little bit less, like we maybe did on Saturday [in the 0-0 draw] against Livingston, then it gets really hard.
“Every game here so far has been a fight. First you have to win the fight, in midfield and everywhere, before you can play proper football. Every game has been tough so far and the game against St Johnstone on Saturday will be the same.”
Contrast feelings after the Livingston game with the emotions of Wednesday and you go from one end of the spectrum to the other. “There has been a lot of negativity for the last few days but now, because of the way the game went on Wednesday – being one down and then coming back, playing really good, going 2-1 in front and although they got it back to 2-2, we beat them 4-2 – things are good.
“The feelings were a bit up and down but now it feels really good. We know we are going to play in the semi-final and that gives us a lot of positive energy for the next game.”
The tempo of Hearts’ performance grew after a moderate start against Motherwell. They produced a roaring finish with two goals in the final two minutes from Olly Lee and Steven Naismith. “I think, especially in the first couple of minutes, you could feel that there was still a lot of negative energy from the last game,” admitted Haring. “There was a little bit of frustration after the last game because we knew that we had lost points because of us and not because of the opponents.
“We knew we played badly and underperformed on Saturday but on Wednesday – after the first 20 minutes and especially after we scored – we played really well. We scored four goals from four different players and I think that means a lot. You can see that everybody in our team can score.
“After the first five games the expectations were a lot higher than before the season and I think much more was made of the result against Livingston. It was just a draw. We are still unbeaten in 12 games this year and that is incredible. It was a really bad performance from us and everyone knew that but we still got a point and we are top of the league so it wasn’t all that bad.”