IF REAL Betis really are considering a move for Hearts’ Jamie Walker, nothing the winger contributed on Saturday will have diluted that interest.
Manager Robbie Neilson was at pains to point out that no formal contact had been made by the Spanish Second Division side but that hasn’t stopped Walker being teased by his team-mates and coaching staff who are intent on keeping his mind focused for as long as he remains at Tynecastle.
They appear to have done a decent job in that respect. Far from having a detrimental effect, the Hearts youngster responded well to the rumours, turning in one of his best performances of the season on a wild and wintry afternoon in the shadow of Dumbarton Rock.
Scoring one, setting up three of the others and winning his team a penalty, he played a key role in so many of the visitors’ forward forays as the league leaders romped to a convincing 5-1 triumph. It allowed them to extend their unbeaten league run to 20 games and take their scoring tally beyond the half century as they head into this week’s meeting with second-placed Rangers brimful of confidence.
“I am happy with setting up a few goals and scoring but I am just delighted it is another three points on the board for the boys,” he said. “We never really looked like losing as soon as we got the first goal and we could even have scored a few more. The boys are delighted and now we are looking forward to Ibrox on Friday night.”
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By then, the Spanish side are likely to have decided whether to make a bid for the 21-year-old. They are expected to discuss the matter today and decide how much they would be willing to offer if they do proceed.
“I was over the moon to be linked with Real Betis who are such a big club,” said the Scotland Under-21 cap. “But I am happy here and I am just looking forward to the next game. I haven’t heard anything other than a few rumours and I have taken a bit of stick from the lads in the dressing room.
“They are a big club and I am delighted to be speculated about like that, so we will just see how that goes. Obviously it is something I would think about in the future but I am happy just now because I am playing well and the team is playing well.
“It is in the window when players move but the gaffer has not said anything to me other than having a laugh with me as well about it. I’m delighted I’m already at a big club and we’ll just see how I go. But if they were watching me against Dumbarton, then I have put in a good performance so I just need to keep going. If I keep putting in good performances then you just don’t know who is watching or what can happen.”
He admits that leaving his childhood heroes, especially at a time when there is the promise of a Championship title win and a speedy return to the top flight would be a wrench, but is unwilling to speculate, preferring instead to wait and see if that decision is forced upon him.
“I need to see how it goes. Hearts are a big club, we are top of the league and we are going for the title. It would be a hard position to be in if it happened.”
That focus has been key to Hearts’ progress this term, refusing to get dewy-eyed about possibilities and simply concentrating on the immediate task in hand.
Instead of allowing thoughts to drift towards Govan and a match that could go a long way to sealing the league title, on Saturday they were thoroughly professional in the dismantling of Dumbarton. Opening the scoring in the eighth minute via Sam Nicholson’s powerful, long-distance drive, Neilson’s men weathered a metaphorical and a literal storm before Walker extended their lead going into the interval.
Their hosts forced a save from Neil Alexander and Andy Graham’s header was cleared just wide, before Scott Agnew and then Chris Turner were denied by the bar.
But the capital side had too many attacking options, with new signing Género Zeefuik putting in a promising debut performance, linking up well with both Walker and Nicholson as well as James Keatings and netting twice. His missed penalty was the only blot on his copybook.
Hearts’ third came in the 51st minute when Walker played in the big Dutchman and Walker supplied the ammo again in the 58th minute, allowing Nicholson to burst into the area and finish. Three minutes later, Zeefuik had added another, sliding in to get on the end of a Walker cross.
Dumbarton pulled one back through Chris Kane in the 62nd minute, but Walker could have gone for his own double when he was felled in the penalty box a few minutes later but selflessly offered Hearts’ newcomer the chance of a debut hat-trick instead.
“I wanted to take the penalty but I gave it to [Género] because he was on the hat-trick,” said Walker. “I’m a team player. Actually, I was just scared to take the ball off him because he is so big!”
Zeefuik missed the spot kick but few in the ground minded. The home contingent were relieved, the away fans content to celebrate another 5-1 scoreline.
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