SITTING at the top of the Championship with a healthy lead over their nearest rivals, Hearts believe they are playing the kind of football that would allow them to compete at an even higher level.
A team laced with players who have operated in the top tier in the past has at its core two players in Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben who are equal to any Premiership pairing, according to their head coach Robbie Neilson. Gomis was the first of the two to sign in the summer, but was soon followed in the door by his former Tannadice team-mate Buaben, and the consistency and calibre of the midfielders have been crucial to Hearts’ impressive start to the campaign.
“It is a huge part of our game,” said Neilson. “The two of them gel very well. They played together at Dundee United for a number of years and they have come in here and settled really well. They are professional, disciplined and they give us a real strength. I speak all the time about those two. They are protecting us all the time. If someone moves out of position, they step in. They know the game.”
It’s the fact that they also know each other so well that has been a huge bonus and allowed the team to hit the ground running.
“Prince brings the best out of me and I think I do the same for him,” said Gomis. “I don’t mind playing with the other players – they are all good – but Prince definitely brings something out of my game. We just click. I know Prince and the way he plays, so we just look at each other and know he is going to be there and I will be there. It’s great. It’s a good understanding between us.”
Gomis has been arguably the most consistent performer in the Hearts ranks this term, but together they have helped give Hearts a strong backbone – something that will be vital at Easter Road this afternoon.
“You want to play beside these guys, or behind them,” said their manager, who has played against them in the past and knew what he was signing. “They are a good example to the young players as well. The system we play, we have those two guys sitting, breaking things up, and allowing other people to attack.
“I know their qualities, what types of players they are. I watched them for years at United, and obviously in England as well. They are probably as good as anybody out there [in Scottish football] on their day and they have been very consistent at the start of the season. Long may that continue. A lot of players [at Hearts] have played SPL or should be playing SPL. If we continue to keep our standards up, then hopefully that is what we will get back to. They are all good players here.”
With strong competition for promotion, Hearts have given themselves the advantage, thanks in part to a solid opening two weeks to the Championship season which included wins over both Rangers and Hibernian. It gave the Tynecastle side confidence and momentum and they have dropped only two points since. It’s an unbeaten record they are determined to protect today, according to Gomis.
“That’s the reason we are where we are now, at the top of the table, because winning those first two games was important,” said the Senegal international. “I am enjoying it and we are playing some good football. I watch the SPL most of the time and we have a good squad and could compete. I don’t see anything different from what I think we could do if we were in the SPL.”