GARY Locke has admitted to being surprised by how well Hearts have begun the season, but has urged his players to remember they still have a long way to go if they are to overcome their 15-point deficit.
Hearts have a daunting match against league leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle this afternoon, but they travelled north buoyed by the knowledge that they are already beginning to put some pressure on the teams immediately above them.
“I think that was one of the important things – for ourselves confidence-wise, and for the fans,” Locke said. “If we had lost the first four games, that would have been it. But the fact that we’ve managed to put a few points on the board puts a little bit of pressure on the teams above us, and that’s all we can do.
“I think everybody has been surprised. With having such a young team, one thing we have got is enthusiasm. But you’re always worried that we’ve not got enough experience to help these boys through games. But certainly I’ve been delighted, absolutely over the moon, with the way that we’ve played in every game. We’re not going to dominate every game, but we’re working our socks off, and I think if you do that, you give yourself a chance.”
Hearts had an inauspicious start to their league campaign, losing 1-0 to St Johnstone in a game that could easily have resulted in a heavier defeat. Since then, however, they have beaten Hibernian and Aberdeen at home, and drawn at Partick Thistle, and on Tuesday beat Raith Rovers on penalties in the League Cup.
“It’s a great habit for all of us to get in,” Locke continued. “Winning games – that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter how you win, we’ve got to try and win. So for me it’s been a really good, positive start, but we have to try and do that over the whole course of the season.
“We are going to have little blips, I’ve no doubt about it. I know the squad are not the biggest, and we’re certainly getting tested this weekend with a lot of players missing, but we’ll go up full of confidence and we’ll try and get three points.
“They are all fighting for the cause. That’s one great thing about the whole club: everyone’s pulling in the same direction, which is probably the first time that’s happened in a long time, and we’re delighted about it. I think you saw Motherwell last year didn’t have a huge squad, but they kept everyone fit and were a fantastic team.
“We’re hopeful we can do the same, but I’ve said all along injuries and suspensions are definitely going to hurt us.” Both those things have already taken their toll, with midfielder Ryan Stevenson still out after being injured in the Edinburgh derby, and defenders Kevin McHattie and Danny Wilson suspended. At least goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald should be fit after being taken off with a knock at Stark’s Park, but the outfield absences have left Locke with little room for manoeuvre.
“It’s a difficult one. I’ve got a headache. We’ll sit down with the backroom team and look at the team. But we don’t have a great deal of options. We’ve got a very small squad, we’re going up to a difficult place, a team that are flying, they’re doing really well.
“So to lose two of our experienced players – although they’re very young – is going to be difficult for us. But it’s an opportunity for another couple of our really good youngsters.”
Wilson has been disciplined by Hearts for the red card he received at the end of the game against Aberdeen, but, while insisting it was an avoidable offence, Locke suggested his club captain had been harshly dealt with by the officials. “When you’re on the pitch you say things to each other – players will admit that. Unfortunately for us, Danny shouted something in the tunnel that someone’s heard, and we’ve had to pay the punishment for it.
“I’m certainly not happy about it, but we can’t appeal it. You’ve got to take it on the chin. You think if everybody’s going to get pulled up for something they shout, then we’re going to end up with hardly any players on the pitch.”
Meanwhile, Inverness defender Gary Warren has vowed to fight fire with fire when Hearts visit the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium.
Warren has been impressed with the spirit and verve shown by Locke’s side inclosing the gap to nine points at the bottom of the table.
But Inverness are the only team in the league who have collected more points than Hearts this season and Warren wants his team-mates to impose themselves.
The English centre-back said: “Looking at the reports and video clips, you know they are going to be a young, energetic side. But so are we. The way we play is full of energy and enthusiasm.”
Warren added: “They have had a midweek game so it’s important we start the game brightly like we have in the last few weeks. We have to take the game to them.”