HEARTS’ long unbeaten league run this season has been put down to many things. The astute coaching of Robbie Neilson in his first campaign at the helm. The experienced summer signings made by the club. The impressive form of the young homegrown players.
But according to Adam Eckersley, himself one of those recent recruits, there is another explanation for an undefeated run which, as the Edinburgh club go into this afternoon’s home fixture with Alloa, stands at 15 games. The well-travelled Englishman, who began his career with Manchester United and has also played for clubs in Belgium and Denmark, regards the playing squad at Tynecastle as the friendliest and most supportive he has been in.
“I expected big things from Hearts before I signed – it was a very calculated move to come and sign here,” the left-back said. “I knew a little bit about Scottish football, and I knew Hearts were a massive club, and I knew we were capable of having a season like we are now.
“But what has exceeded my expectations is that, of all the dressing rooms I have been in, this is the most friendly. Even when players are not playing they’re supporting the guy who is.
“We have a very strong team spirit, and I think that’s the difference. I don’t know why that is: maybe it’s because the squad is so young. There aren’t too many older heads in there – it’s just a very down-to-earth young squad and I think we gel really well with each other.”
At 29, Eckersley is one of the oldest members of a squad whose other ‘senior’ players are in the main far younger – captain Danny Wilson, for example, only turns 23 next Saturday. “I think they’ve got the mix of young and old in the dressing room perfect,” the defender continued.
“There are a lot of young players and then a few older heads to keep their feet on the ground and make sure they don’t get ahead of themselves.
“There are never any problems in the dressing room. There are no big egos in there.
“I’ve been in what I call selfish dressing rooms where a lot of players don’t want the best for the guy in front of him, but this dressing room is different. The manager is rotating the side every week and the players not playing are still happy for the ones who are, and I think that’s helping massively.
“If you’re not all pulling in the same direction then things won’t work properly. It has to be a well-oiled machine and that’s what we’ve got in there.
“Everyone’s a team player. It’s all for one and one for all. We’re all working towards the same goal.”
Eckersley’s own rivalry with Kevin McHattie epitomises the attitude which he believes is essential.
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Although the younger man is out injured at present, earlier in the season the pair competed in a positive spirit, driving each other on to higher standards.
“I think you need competition – it’s very important – but I think you also need to be supportive towards the guy who’s playing. That’s important as well.
“When you have people in the same position it does drive you and push you to do well in training and bring the best out of yourself. And that’s what you need.”
This being football, the other thing that is needed in the dressing room is a bit of light relief. Eckersley revealed that it is mainly provided by striker James Keatings.
“The banter is good in there. I’ve been in a lot of dressing rooms but this one is quite special. The wind-up merchant is James Keatings – he’s a little b******! You can’t turn your back on him for a second.”
• Nineteen-year-old striker Gary Oliver has been recalled a couple of weeks early from his loan spell at Stenhousemuir. “We have a few games coming up and need as many players available as possible,” head coach Robbie Neilson said.
“The loan was good experience for him and I think he enjoyed it. I had him watched and he proved he can comfortably play at that level. It’s time for him to move up to another level.”
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