Why Hearts must improve to compete in Scotland's Premiership
The Premiership is beckoning Hearts but there is still major improvement needed within the squad at Riccarton.
Their lead atop the Championship table increased to 15 points with a 2-1 home win against Dundee on Saturday. It was a strong attacking performance which should have yielded several more goals but, equally, Dundee might have scored three or four themselves had Craig Gordon not been on form.
Flaws are still there for everyone to see and Hearts don’t attempt to hide them. As well as new signings over the summer, players currently in situ must enhance their game for the top flight.
Ambitions at Tynecastle Park are to challenge in the Premiership’s top four as soon as possible so there is clearly work to do. They are unbeaten in seven Championship games and looked a real attacking threat at the weekend.
Defensively, they relied too much on Gordon after wasting chances to finish the game. “I think we need to improve with the individuals we've got here because I think the squad is good enough,” said midfielder Andy Halliday, who headed the opening goal.
“I don't think we've found that consistent level we had at first. We won 13 out of the first 16 games but I don't think we've hit the same heights. We haven't been at our very best since except Raith away and the cup final.
“We've won when we've not played well but we haven't played well for long enough. For the first hour on Saturday the intensity was a lot better but looking at the chances we've had, we should have scored more.
“It's a bonus because we haven't been creating enough chances and had lapses at the back. I do feel we've got the quality in the squad to go up next season and compete, but we need to improve.”
Halliday’s first-half opener preceded a second after the break from striker Armand Gnanduillet. Jason Cummings’ penalty reduced the deficit before Gordon repelled Dundee’s late onslaught.
Halliday revealed his header was only the second goal of his entire career. “I've joked with the boys before that I've always felt I was quite good in the air but I'd only scored one header in my career, so it was good to get my second. It was a great ball from Armand.
“I keep saying to the boys, ‘cut back ball, cut the ball back’ because when you get wide, defenders naturally sink into their six-yard box. That cutback I've been screaming for eventually came from big Armand. If I'd missed that I'd have taken some stick!”
Peter Haring’s stoppage-time red card for a high tackle on Dundee’s Declan McDaid came just minutes after the Austrian’s introduction as substitute. Asked what he said to his team-mate afterwards, Halliday joked: “Whit ye daein for a start!
“The big man puts himself about and I love that about him. He’s maybe just trying to put a marker down and make a tackle to slow the game down. I need to see it back but my initial thought was that it was a poor tackle.
“It was harsh, the red card, considering he was on the pitch for 20 seconds. I would need to see it again but he'll be disappointed because he’ll miss a couple of games now.”