Michael Smith: Jon Daly has lifted Hearts in time for Celtic

Michael Smith can't wait to get the ball rolling at Celtic Park
Michael Smith can't wait to get the ball rolling at Celtic Park
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In the few weeks since becoming a Hearts player, Michael Smith has seen the club crash out of one competition they had hoped to challenge for and the manager that signed him depart before the league season has even begun.

The Northern Irish internationalist, who joined for a nominal fee from Peterborough United, could be forgiven for wondering just what he has signed up for.

However, the right-back seemed relatively unfazed when speaking to the media ahead of today’s Ladbrokes Premiership opener at Celtic Park.

He was also quick to acknowledge that he and his team-mates must shoulder a good portion of the blame for Ian Cathro’s dismissal earlier this week.

“Not this soon,” Smith replied when asked if he’d gone through similar before. “I’ve only been here for four weeks now so it was a big shock to me and probably the rest of the boys as well.

“It’s a results business anyway. The players, we haven’t performed for him. At the end of the day, when people get sacked, it is the players’ fault. I feel that anyway. Some people might not feel that, but the players have to take responsibility for things like this.”

The strength of reaction from the home support to the 2-2 draw and subsequent penalty defeat by Dunfermline at Tynecastle last Saturday took Smith aback, but he understood it even if he wasn’t expecting it.

“I knew there’d be pressure playing here,” he admitted. “That’s why I came here – to play in circumstances like that and try and win trophies for such a big club. The response from the fans on Saturday did shock me and probably some of the other new boys as well.

“The club means everything to a lot of people and I understand that. We’re going to work our hardest to try and get somewhere this season.”

Initially at least, Jon Daly will get the ball rolling in that regard. The former Dundee Utd striker has been appointed interim head coach while owner Ann Budge and director of football Craig Levein set about choosing Cathro’s successor. According to Smith, the Irishman has already made some positive changes in the few days he has been in charge.

“He’s lifted the mood,” Smith revealed. “When the manager loses his job and the next guy comes in, the interim manager or whatever, you need to put a smile back on the players’ faces and he has done that. We’ve had a bit of fun this week, it’s been good, it’s been intense hard work all gearing towards Celtic and the boys are really up for it now.

“He’s brought fun, commitment, enthusiasm and work rate, which we need today.”

Some would suggest what Hearts really need is a miracle. Brendan Rodgers’ side scored six without reply in two home matches against The Jambos last term, knocking in seven across the return fixtures.

Smith however, is hoping organisation, some belief and the law of averages can see Hearts come away from the east end of Glasgow with something.

“It’s the toughest fixture of the season but why not make it the first one?” he posed. “They didn’t lose all last year and had a good result on Wednesday night, but someone’s going to beat them eventually. Why not us? They’re a good team and we know what we’re up against but we’ll go there and try and upset them.

“No-one gives us a chance at all. The players and the people inside the club do but we know what we have to do. We know it’s not going to be easy, far from it, but we go there with a game plan that Jon, and 
Austin [MacPhee] will set out and hopefully maybe catch them on an off day as well.

“[A win] would be massive. The club would get a massive lift from it and the confidence that would come from winning a game like that would be second to none. Every team needs a bit of confidence going in to the start of the season.”

Hearts’ best chance of a goal is likely to be Kyle Lafferty, who will no doubt be targeted by the home fans at Celtic Park given his Rangers past, and Smith is backing the big No.9 to thrive on any hostility.

“He loves things like that,” he said of his compatriot. “He’s probably had it his whole career. I believe he had a builder shouting at him the other day in Glasgow so it’s pretty standard. I’m sure he’ll let the Celtic fans know when he scores on Saturday!”