JAMIE Walker hopes a vociferous home support at Tynecastle this afternoon can drive Hearts on to what would be their most impressive result of the season so far if they can get the better of Celtic.
Hearts have won their two previous home games, against Hibernian and Aberdeen, and Walker scored in the latter match, as well as in the draw at Partick Thistle. The midfielder is well aware that the visit of the champions will be as tough a challenge as anything he and his team-mates are likely to face this season, but he believes it is one they can rise to, with more than a little help from those fans. “It’s the biggest game of our season,” Walker said.
“It’s going to be a very hard game, but we’re looking forward to it. Our form is good at Tynecastle and we hope that continues. Everyone is going to have to be at their best and we will need to take our chances when they come, because you know Celtic will take theirs.
“We are unbeaten there and the fans have been unbelievable behind us. It’s an intimidating place for any side to come and we really want to keep our good run going there.
“We get a massive lift from playing there. There’s nothing better than a full Tynecastle behind you – it spurs you on. I’ve not done great against Celtic in the past, but hopefully that will change this weekend. Our home form is going to be massive this year. That’s going to be key in us picking up points and closing the gap.”
Hearts began the season 15 points behind the rest of the Scottish Premiership as a penalty for going into administration, but the gap between them and 11th-placed St Mirren is now just nine. On paper the Paisley side appear to have a good chance of stretching that gap today, when they are at home to Motherwell, but Walker insisted his team are in confident mood going into the lunchtime kick-off against Celtic. “They’re going to be favourites – they’re champions and in the Champions League,” he said. “But we have good quality in the dressing room and we feel that at home we can beat any team.”
Even before the season began there were predictions that Gary Locke’s young squad would become demoralised if and when results started going against them. But so far at least, they have appeared impervious to psychological harm – even those, such as Walker, who have been away with a Scotland Under-21 squad that has lost its last two matches 10-0 on aggregate.
“When you’re away with the under-21s, you’re facing tough opposition,” explained Walker, who was an unused substitute in the team that lost 6-0 to England and then again in the side that was beaten 4-0 by the Netherlands. “It’s been a good experience for me and I feel it’s helped me a lot.
“The difference in those games was taking chances. We didn’t take them and it cost us. We need to make sure that doesn’t happen against Celtic on Saturday. I’ve scored a few this season and I want to score a few more.”
In fact, rather than just taking chances that came his way, Walker has developed a knack of creating scoring opportunities out of nothing. Two minutes after conceding a penalty at Firhill which gave the home team a late lead, he was up the other end scoring the equaliser. And against Aberdeen, beginning in an apparently harmless position in midfield, he drove on, created a shooting position for himself, and scored with a low shot. Something similar today would certainly turn up the volume at Tynecastle by a few notches.