Detractors may suggest the club’s new change kit is responsible for inducing the laughs but captain Alim Ozturk believes the smiles are ready for a timely return at Hearts.
Anger and disappointment pervaded the mood at Tynecastle in the wake of Thursday’s shock Europa League exit at the hands of unheralded Maltese outfit Birkirkara. The jeers from unhappy supporters that greeted the full-time whistle were loudly delivered but accepted as entirely justified by a Hearts squad who demanded better themselves.
Ozturk has labelled the 2-1 aggregate defeat as the lowest point of his career so far and the soul-searching that followed has been an unpleasant experience. Normally the jovial Jambo, the defender has not been his usual self in recent days.
However, the show must go on, and for Hearts the focus has to turn to the domestic kick-off against Celtic on Sunday week. Ozturk is convinced the recovery is under way and that Robbie Neilson’s stung side will be ready to face the champions.
“We are all disappointed, of course, but I think it was a good experience for everybody,” he said. “Most of the guys have now played their first European games, myself also. We are still disappointed but we have to look now to Celtic.
“I was thinking about the game and I’m still disappointed about it. I’m always the guy who comes into the club laughing but not for the last two or three days. They are the best games to play, so I’m really, really disappointed about that still, but we have to look to the next match now.
“That is the lowest I’ve felt after a defeat. After the game, I was really angry and disappointed. We expected to go through after the 0-0 over there and then coming back to Tynecastle.
“But the smile is coming back a bit – I have to because others look to me. Disappointment is a good thing but not for too long. We will all be up for the Celtic game but it wouldn’t matter who our first opponents were. If you want to finish high in this league then you need to beat most of the teams – Celtic is just the first game.
“It would give the fans something back if we could win this game. That’s what we want. I hope we can do it and I have confidence that we can.”
Whilst progress to the third qualifying round would have ensured Hearts’ preparations for the arrival of Celtic took in the challenge of Russian side Krasnodar, instead they currently have a friendly against Steven Pressley’s Fleetwood Town, from England’s League One, to ready them for the start of the Premiership campaign.
They will by then be able to call on the services of former Celtic striker Tony Watt, who will be formally unveiled this morning follow his arrival on loan from Charlton Athletic, and midfielder Perry Kitchen could also shake off his hamstring problem in time to strengthen Neilson’s options.
Going from second-tier champions just a year after emerging from administration to a third-placed finish last season has only served to raise the expectations that were not met against Birkirkara, but Ozturk believes the European disappointment will spur him and his team-mates on domestically this term.
“We want to finish as high as possible,” added the Turkey under-21 cap. “In the two rounds we played, it was really nice, we were travelling away with the team and it’s good for the team spirit. We want to finish as high as possible and that’s one of the goals, to play in Europe again next year.”
Ozturk was speaking at Dalmeny House, near South Queensferry, at the launch of Hearts’ new change kit.
The club have adopted the pink and yellow colours of the 5th Earl of Rosebery, who became Prime Minister in 1894 and was honorary president of Hearts and president of the SFA, who have also used the colours through the years, most recently just last year.
The strip has been described by Hearts themselves as ‘having a major Marmite effect’ in the way it has divided opinion, but the fact that one of the Jambos’ most celebrated sons, Bobby Walker, wore the colours for Scotland at the turn of the 20th century – a kit that will go on display in the club’s new museum – may help win some over.
Ozturk, for one, is a fan. “Hearts are a club with a big history and it’s important to recognise that,” he said.
“These colours have played a part in history, so it’s nice to bring them back. They are unusual but sometimes you have to do something a little bit crazy. I like it.”