HEARTS’ quarterly report card for the Championship makes for good reading.
Alloa 0-1 Hearts
Scorer: Eckersley (86)
By surmounting the challenge posed by Alloa on Saturday, Robbie Neilson’s side have established a nine-point lead at the summit, albeit closest rivals Rangers have a game in hand.
And in racking up eight wins from nine undefeated matches, the Tynecastle outfit have set a new points record (25) for the opening round of fixtures in the second tier, beating the previous high by three.
The visitors underlined their title credentials with a victory in which their character – rather than their talent – came to the fore.
But unlike the Vladimir Romanov era and that regime’s penchant for making grandiose statements, you will not find any of the current Hearts set-up getting carried away by their stirring start.
Captain Danny Wilson confessed that they “didn’t turn up at all” at the Indodrill stadium.
After riding their luck on several occasions in the second half, Hearts struck the winner in the 86th minute with a strike credited to Adam Eckersley.
Having used their full quota of substitutes, Hearts were down to ten men at the time after Wilson went off as a precautionary measure with a hamstring strain.
And there was a slice of good fortune about the decisive goal. Eckersley’s left-footed inswinging free kick was more of a delivery rather than a shot but the ball found the far corner of the net via a touch from Wasps defender Kyle Benedictus.
Asked if Hearts had surpassed their own expectations after amassing 25 points, former Rangers and Liverpool defender Wilson said: “We never really had a points total in mind. You want to try and win every game and we’ve managed to do that in all but one.
“If you look at it like that, we’re delighted. We’ve not really set ourselves a target, we just want to keep this run going and three points at Alloa was massive.
“We have a little lead at the top and it’s important we have that so early in the season, but it’s important we maintain it.
“We’ve done well so far and we’re rightly at the top of the league; we’ve got a long way to go and we’ll just try to go out and get three points every time we play.”
Hearts paid the public hire charge to train on Alloa’s artificial pitch last Wednesday, but for long spells on Saturday it appeared that Neilson’s side were struggling to adapt to the surface.
Alloa may occupy a relegation play-off place in the Championship but they have made life difficult for every one of the so-called big three on their home pitch, having also beaten Hibs and drawn with Rangers.
“We’ve got three points and that’s the most important thing,” said Wilson, who hopes to be available for Saturday’s visit of Dumbarton.
“We can play better, but other teams have come here this season and failed to pick up three points.
“We’re delighted and it means we’ve gone through the first round unbeaten. We’re happy with that and can take it forward next week.
“Teams that come to Alloa and pick up the points, they’re going to be vital over the course of the season.
“I don’t think we turned up at all against Alloa but we still managed to grind it out and it feels like a sweet win for us.”
Despite seeing his team struggle to replicate a level of performance that had yielded 13 goals in recent victories over Queen of the South, Livingston and Cowdenbeath, Neilson insists their fruitful trip to Clackmannanshire bodes well for the rest of the campaign.
“We’ve been winning games 2,3,4, 5-nil, and that breeds confidence; but a game like Saturday breeds confidence as well. There will be other games when it comes to 80-odd minutes and it’s nil-nil, but they’ll have belief that they can do it again.”
Alloa midfielder Stephen Simmons, a one-time team-mate of Neilson at Tynecastle, found the loss hard to digest.
He said: “They’re the league leaders but they’ve come here and we’ve acquitted ourselves brilliantly. I thought Hearts were good, they had good, sharp young boys who are enthusiastic.
“I was delighted when Robbie got the job and I’m sure he will keep doing a good job.
“I think they’re a real good side but we did really well and were unlucky not to take something.”