Steven Naismith can lead Hearts' charge up the Premiership table – and back in the mix for a European berth
It is perhaps stating the bleedin’ obvious, as Fawlty Towers creator John Cleese bluntly put it, but Steven Naismith’s influence on this Hearts team is immeasurable.
Six minutes, or 360 seconds, is all it took the Scotland international to make his mark in interim manager Austin MacPhee’s first Premiership fixture at the helm, glancing home Andy Irving’s corner that set the hosts on their way to a much-needed 5-2 win over St Mirren.
A hamstring injury meant it was the 33-year-old’s first start for the Gorgie outfit since August’s goalless draw with Ross County and boy have they missed him.
The stats in the intervening period will have made his skin crawl.
It’s not the first time in Naismith’s short Hearts career that he has undertaken a vigorous rehabilitation programme to get himself fit and back out on the park. And it also isn’t the first time that his absence in a maroon jersey has come at a cost with results having taken a nosedive.
But he’s back and, most importantly, fit, at a time when Hearts could be about to launch themselves up the Premiership table.
MacPhee spoke in the aftermath of the win over Saints – the club’s first in the league at Tynecastle in seven months – that it’s not beyond any stretch of the imagination that Hearts could still put themselves in the mix for a European spot come the business end of the season, despite the current league table suggesting otherwise.
However, with an in-form and ravenous Naismith in the side, he may just have a point and here's why.
Third-placed Aberdeen might be 13 points better off at this stage but that target isn’t insurmountable with two-thirds of the season still to play out.
Even before a ball was kicked yesterday, Naismith resembled a whippet anticipating its release from its holding box, desperate to make up for lost time. He was the one geeing up his team-mates during the warm-up, growling at them for more, desperate to leave no stone unturned.
His enthusiasm is infectious and the players – and supporters – feed off it. It didn’t take too long for ‘there’s only one Steven Naismith’ to be heard ringing out over the west of Edinburgh once again. Hearts will have to tighten things up defensively and by no means was the performance against Saints perfect, far from it, but it's about building momentum going forward.
Despite a stop-start spell since arriving initially on loan in January last year, Naismith’s affection for the club resembles a player who has been part of the furniture for the past decade in Gorgie.
His decision to sign a four-year contract little more than three months ago underlines the faith he has in the club matching his lofty ambitions, even at this late stage in his career and someone who strutted their stuff in the Premier League in England for both Everton and Norwich City.
He is pivotal to any success Hearts have, if any, moving forward this season. Naismith is the side’s talisman and a role he thrives on.
He’s only going to get stronger by the week with yesterday the first time he has completed 90 minutes since a 1-1 draw against St Mirren in February.
Naismith’s focus now switches to the double header against Cyprus and Kazakhstan as Scotland bring their disappointing Euro 2020 qualifying campaign to a close.
Hearts fans will be on tenterhooks during the international break, praying their No.14 reports back to base with a clean bill of health ahead of the trip to Kilmarnock in just under a fortnight’s time.