“We could have scored five or six and it wouldn’t have flattered us,” said Jamie Walker when asked for his opinion on Hearts’ comprehensive thumping of Rangers.
He was talking of the team in general, but really he could have been referring only to himself after a stunning performance in front of the bright lights of Tynecastle.
He scored twice – the crucial second goal and game-sealing fourth – and had he found the net five times in total, Rangers would have had few complaints.
The home side were so dominant in the second half that it is hard to recall another occasion when Hearts outclassed a Rangers team to such an extent. Even with the game over at 4-1, the hosts continued to charge forward in search of another.
Like the 2-0 victory earlier in the campaign, it will go down as a triumph Hearts fans will remember for years to come, and in this instance the star was undoubtedly Walker.
In addition to his goals, he missed with a couple of volleys after drifting free in the penalty area; had a one-on-one halted by an excellent James Tavernier tackle, and then watched as Wes Foderingham pulled off an incredible save to deny his late free-kick, which looked sure to curl into the net from 25 yards .
It was an attacking clinic by a midfielder who is so dangerous in open play that both his current boss Ian Cathro and former coach Robbie Neilson have been loath to put shackles on his movement, granting the playmaker the necessary freedom to express himself.
Don’t let anyone tell you Walker is a winger. Sure, he starts from the wide of Hearts’ midfield four, often on the left, but he s a No 10 at heart, drifting into the centre out of possession or driving into that area when he has the ball.
He began life in the first team as a more orthodox wide man. Then came a tactical shift halfway through the Championship-winning season. It brought out the best in the youngster, showing both player and Neilson that giving him space in central areas was the best way in which to unleash Walker on opponents.
After all, the centre is where goals are scored. Yes, he could hug the touchline, look to beat full-backs and cross for others, but why rely on someone else to do that job when Walker can do it better himself?
At times it can be an issue. Hearts have suffered from a lack of width this term, while he can sometimes leave them vulnerable in defence. Of the few times Rangers attacked with any menace, the majority came down Hearts’ left-hand side, as Walker was sometimes caught drifting in.
It’s not just an attacking impulse. Even when the other side has possession he ventures inwards to try to break up play, as evidenced by his pinching of the ball from Andy Halliday, which set up his 25-yard belter that gave Hearts the lead for good.
After his double on Wednesday, Walker is now the third leading goalscorer in the Premiership behind only Scott Sinclair and Liam Boyce.
Other than those two, only Leigh Griffiths has scored more per 90 minutes. It means he holds a better goals-to-minutes ratio than rumoured £40 million Chelsea target Moussa Dembele, while his raw numbers blow that of supposedly £6m-rated Barrie McKay out of the water.
If such massive transfer fees can be bandied about for the prize assets of the Old Firm, should not Walker be talked about in similar terms?
Yes and no. He is undoubtedly an under-rated player within the Ladbrokes Premiership – it’s quite surprising he has not been seriously considered for a Scotland call-up – but the bigger clubs will always be able to command higher fees for their talents. It’s not what the player is worth, it’s how much someone is willing to pay and what the club is willing to sell for.
Additionally, there is an issue with Walker’s knee. The player suffered from Osgood-Schlatter disease – a relatively common inflammation just below the knee – as a child and experts believe his injury problems in recent seasons. may be linked to that. It has perhaps dissuaded English clubs, both in the past and now, from showing a serious interest in him.
If that is the case, their loss is Hearts’ gain. While speculation on the futures of fellow academy graduates Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson has continued throughout the season, the Tynecastle management could do worse than to sit Walker down and see if they can’t get his contract extended past summer 2018.
In a season of 17 signings, that would really be the best of the lot.