Robbie Neilson had set his Hearts players the target of nine points from nine as they headed into a run of three tricky games. Defeat away to Kilmarnock and then a draw up at Inverness means the maximum he can now hope for is four, provided they beat St Johnstone tomorrow.
The absence of a victory in those two away games could have been more costly. But, such is the nature of the Scottish top flight, while they have failed to made telling gains, they have lost relatively little ground on the clubs around them.
“It is really tight that league. Everyone is beating everyone else. Look at Aberdeen v Hamilton, Aberdeen got beat and they were second in the league at the time. Jump forward a week and Dundee, who were bottom of the league, play Hamilton and win. So it is all very tight.
“Everyone can beat anybody and it is difficult to have a sustained run of games winning. If you do that then you jump up three, four, five places.”
Rangers are the team to have capitalised best on Hearts’ slip-up, leapfrogging the Gorgie side to take second spot, one point ahead of the capital side, Aberdeen and St Johnstone, who are separated only by goal difference.
“I think everyone will have little bursts throughout the season and ourselves Rangers, Aberdeen, St Johnstone will all have periods where we win three, four, five in a row and jump up but then we might come back a bit again as someone else has that run. It is that tight.”
It adds extra value to the head to heads and harvesting a victory over Tommy Wright’s men would allow them to reopen a small gap, a third loss to them this term would see Neilson’s side lose ground and slip further down the table.
After two games and two defeats at McDiarmid Park, one in the League Cup and one on Premiership duty, the challenge is to head into the international break on the back of a return to winning ways. Back at home, where their only domestic loss has been at the hands of Celtic, Neilson believes his men can triumph but he knows that no-one in the St Johnstone ranks will make it easy for them.
“St Johnstone are a team that are always competitive and always up for a game against Hearts especially as Tynecastle,” he added.
“They see us a big scalp. We need to win the battles and hopefully we can get control of the game and then it comes down to footballing ability.
“They have key players like Steven Anderson, Murray Davidson, Steven McLean, Chris Millar who have all been there for a long time and they all know what they are doing and it becomes second nature to them. St Johnstone are a good example of how, if you keep a group of players together, you can achieve.
“Tommy has done very well and I am sure there are teams looking at what he has achieved. I am sure there are teams having a think about taking him down south.”
Neilson is more concerned with what his team can do, though. Pleased with the spirit shown in the Highlands last weekend as they battled back from two goals down to level before going behind again and fighting to finish with a 3-3 draw.
“It was an exciting game. It was entertaining football. But I don’t want us to be scoring three goals and coming away with only one point.” In a tight league every point matters.