As Robbie Neilson and his squad travel up the M90 to Perth this evening, their motivation is more akin to reacting after a defeat. Hearts are unbeaten after ten Premiership fixtures this term but it didn’t feel that way after Jason Cummings’ late equaliser on Saturday. The challenge is to respond appropriately against St Johnstone.
“It was quiet and the changing room wasn't a nice place to be,” admitted defender Stephen Kingsley. “We drew and it wasn't a defeat but it felt like that, especially with the way we've played all season. To put in a performance like that and not have a clinical edge and end product stung.
“That's football for you. If you don't take your chances, there's always a chance the other team can come into it. It was even more frustrating with the way we conceded. It was such a poor goal to give away. That resulted in a really low atmosphere after the game.
“It's one we deal with, we will see where we could have done better and try to put it right tomorrow. It was a feeling of disappointment that we had missed a chance to get two more points.
“That's the standards we all hold ourselves to. Obviously it’s set by the gaffer and all the coaching staff, but it’s standards we set ourselves because we know we should be winning these games.
“We’re putting in the performance to win the game, we just haven’t done it. As I say, to concede the goal we did was very frustrating and disappointing and that’s why it was that silent after the game.
“This is going to happen over the course of a season. It’s not going to be all easy, it’s part and parcel of the season. There are going to be plenty more days like this and we just need to be ready for it.”
Demands at Riccarton have risen sharply in recent months despite Hearts only gaining promotion from the Championship in April. Fans jeering at full-time against Dundee showed the newer members of Neilson’s squad exactly what is expected of them.
“They know that. They know there’s going to be days like that. We know we’re not going to have it our own way the whole season, so it’s about how we react really,” added Kingsley.
“Especially for me being here last season, obviously it was in a different league, but whenever we did have any disappointments we always jumped back from them really well and showed good resilience by responding well, so we need to do that again.”
Encouragement is drawn from the fact the next game comes quickly. Although it is a fixture laced with danger for Hearts, who have not won a league game at McDiarmid Park for 11 years.
Kevin Kyle and Ryan Stevenson scored in a 2-0 win on November 13, 2010, and 13 subsequent Premiership visits to Perth have failed to yield a victory for the Edinburgh club. They did win a Scottish Cup tie there en route to lifting the trophy in 2012, but only after extra-time.
The current squad are already aware how difficult St Johnstone away has been for their predecessors. John Souttar, Craig Halkett and Liam Boyce played in Hearts’ last appearance in Perth – a 3-3 draw under Daniel Stendel in February 2020.
“We’ve not really spoke about it much so far, but I knew from speaking to the boys in the changing room that the record wasn’t great up there,” admitted Kingsley. “I’m sure the manager will be telling us before the game.
“It’s such a massive game for us at a place we’ve not had much success at in the past. I’ve obviously not been here during that time and neither have a lot of the boys in the changing room, so it’ll be somewhere that we go still full of confidence.
“We’re still playing good football, so I know it’s going to be a tough place to go and a tough team to play against. We’ll be going there full of confidence and hopefully get the win.”
It may be seen as advantageous that the vast majority of this Hearts side are not burdened by this unwanted record. “Probably. I think we just need to focus on ourselves,” replied Kingsley.
“We can’t really think about what’s happened in the past, whether you’ve played in those game or haven’t, you just need to focus on this game coming up and what we need to do to win the game.”
St Johnstone’s start to this campaign has been rather underwhelming following last season’s double cup-winning efforts. They have managed only two wins from their first ten league games and sit tenth in the table ahead of this evening’s match.
Their cup exploits are again noteworthy with a place in the Premier Sports Cup semi-final already secured. “Look at what they did last season,” said Kingsley.
“They lost a couple of good players in Ali McCann and Jason Kerr, so that’s going to be disappointing for them losing two big players. They’re still a strong team who will be hard to play against.
“The run that they went on last season and the cups they won is just phenomenal, so we know we’re going to be in for a hard night.”