When it comes to jostling for league positions, Robbie Neilson prefers to focus on the here and now, picking up points game by game and happy to see where that leaves his Hearts side come the end of the campaign.
But he has a longer-term approach when it comes to plotting ways to ensure that Hearts finish as high as possible. Piecing together the best side from a squad that now offers him numerous permutations, he wants to keep hold of the elite and tease out the very best of the potential nestled in the rest.
Arnaud Djoum is, therefore, a key consideration for him these days. The Belgian midfielder signed a try-it-and-see deal to keep him at the club until the turn of the year. His manager, impressed by what he has seen in training and in the matches he has been involved in thus far, is keen to extend that contract.
More days like Saturday could help convince him, according to the player himself. After a slow start to the match, Hearts eventually ran out convincing 4-0 winners. The victory brought with it the added bonus of leapfrogging Aberdeen to move into second place in the Premiership.
“I thought we played well and delivered a good result. It was important to win and go second. We improved after the first goal. I thought I played well and I enjoy playing in this team,” said Djoum.
“The way we play is going to be important in making my choice. But I am confident this is a very good team that can play good football. For sure, days like this help.”
Hoping to have left the frustration of life on the bench behind him after a tough year in Turkey and then Poland, the 26-year-old is craving the inclusive footballing life he previously enjoyed in Holland with Roda JC.
“My mind is just on playing football and enjoying it with Hearts,” added Djoum. “After that, we will see what happens. Last year, I didn’t play many games. I’m happy to hear the coach say that he wants to extend the agreement and we will see what happens in the next days.
“I don’t search for money. For me, the most important thing is to have stability, to play football and to show what I can do.”
A fan of the Scottish style of football, Djoum likes mixing the physical with the technical. On Saturday, Hearts relied on that mix to knock the stuffing out of a keen Partick Thistle side, who matched them throughout the vast majority of the first half and were unfortunate to go in at the break a goal behind. Sitting second bottom, they had enjoyed a mini resurgence in recent weeks, unbeaten in the last three, with seven points from a possible nine. But manager Alan Archibald will be perturbed by how easily his men caved once Hearts upped the ante and dismayed that he will have to rejig goalkeeping personnel yet again after young Ryan Scully, in for the injured Tomas Cerny, was sent off late in the match. It was a silly intervention when viewed as part of a bigger picture.
The home side were already three goals down by that stage. They conceded their first in the 38th minute when Danny Swanson’s free-kick was headed goalwards by Sam Nicholson. Scully kept that out but, when the ball fell to Osman Sow, he played it back across goal for Juanma to finish. Thistle conceded the game when the second one went in six minutes into the second half. Stuart Brannigan lost out to Juanma and he played in Sow who found the net.
The third came when Juanma slotted home a 63rd-minute penalty, won by Djoum who had breached the Thistle reargaurd and invited a rash challenge in the box. Sow repeated Spaniard’s spot kick feat in the 85th minute. That was when the young goalkeeper reacted foolishly to being left exposed by his defence, clattering Sow. With all the subs used, it left outfielder Ryan Stevenson to go in goal and try in vain to deny the Swede.
Veteran goalkeeper Paul Gallacher will now be called on next week. But no-one at Thistle is too concerned by the reliance on their 36-year-old goalkeeping coach. “We’re definitely in a predicament at the moment,” admitted midfielder David Amoo, who was a star performer in the first half, “but I think Gal will come in and he’s got a lot of experience. He can help the boys out at the back. He still pulls off some great saves and I’m sure he’ll do fine.”
If they could turn their first 45 minutes from Saturday into a 90-minute performance, the same could be said for the Maryhill side.