HEARTS manager Gary Locke could be forgiven for casting an envious glance towards Derek Adams in the opposing dugout when his team face Ross County on Saturday.
While Locke continues to be constrained by a transfer embargo, Adams has transformed his team during a busy transfer window.
All six of County’s January signings started against Dundee United last weekend and helped the Dingwall side to a 3-0 victory which took their points tally for 2014 to 10 from four games, just one fewer than his team managed in the first 18 matches of the season.
That return has seen them stretch their lead over Scottish Premiership bottom club Hearts to 22 points as Locke’s team remain one point off wiping out their penalty for going into administration.
Locke’s only hope of bringing a player in during January rest on the outcome of negotiations with Swansea over teenager Adam King and any subsequent application to the Scottish Professional Football League to sign a replacement. Rudi Skacel is continuing to train with his former club.
Hearts lost 2-1 in Dingwall in December despite leading with three minutes left and he knows they face a tougher task in their latest trip to the Highlands.
“It will be even more difficult because Derek has been very shrewd in the transfer window and brought in six or seven players who have made a massive difference to them,” Locke said.
“That’s credit to him. Obviously they didn’t have a great first half of the season and he has looked at their squad and the positions he needs to strengthen and it looks like the players he has brought in have made a massive difference.”
Hearts accrued half of their 14 points in the first four games of the season but Locke believes his young team have improved despite their increasingly stark predicament at the foot of the table.
“It was always your fear at the start of the season with everything that went against us,” he said. “We lost all of our experienced players and had to go with a group of young kids.
“So if you are a realist, the position we are in is probably the right one.
“But the boys have done fantastically well and I think they deserve a lot of credit for the way they have handled themselves.
“We have made mistakes along the way but I can definitely see a massive improvement in every one of them.
“And that’s what I have said all along. As long as they improve, which I feel they have, hopefully we can have a better second half to the season.”