DAVID Smith’s face told the tale of deep disappointment more vividly than any of his words ever could. He had scored his first competitive goals for Hearts, in a derby, to offer hope of something special.
But the harsh reality for those associated with the Tynecastle club this term is that converting hopes into something more tangible is proving even tougher than anticipated.
Sent on as a substitute after Hibs had taken the lead in Thursday night’s capital clash, the winger’s instructions were to be positive and get his team back into the game. He followed the instructions, with a driving run which resulted in a shot Ben Williams couldn’t hold and a follow up which the Hibs keeper couldn’t get to. But a late penalty winner for their rivals meant Smith cut a forlorn figure post match.
He said: “We’ve got a good record in the derbies so, at the start of the game, we thought we had a chance. When we got the goal back I thought we were favourites, I thought there was going to be another chance and, when Jamie Walker went down, I thought that was a penalty as well but the referee said it was a dive. There have been decisions going against us, big decisions. I suppose the referees are trying their best but, when it does go against you, it’s hard to take.
“We’re bottom. We knew at the start of the season it was going to be a difficult task but the gaffer [Gary Locke] and Billy [Brown] will get behind us, try to get us confident and get us going again. We’ll never give up. We do video analysis and they show us what we can learn. We’re all young lads so we’re all still learning and the gaffer and Billy will try and motivate us and tell us we can still do it.
“It must be hard for them, as much as it is hard for us, but we’re in the same boat, we all need to keep going and keep believing. That was my first goal for Hearts and it was in the derby. It will give me confidence and, hopefully, I’ll take it on and it’s the start of more to come.”
The attacking Scotland U21 player, who is originally from Cumbernauld, has been part of the Hearts set-up since he was ten. Now 20, he and his team of fellow youngsters were tasked with wiping out a 15-point deficit and keeping the club in the top flight. It is a job that, increasingly, is looking impossible. The next chance to gather points comes at Tynecastle this afternoon, against Partick Thistle. Hearts still utter fighting words, they continue to battle, as they did against Hibs, to match teams contesting matters at the other end of the table, but they keep coming up short, and lifting spirits is becoming as arduous as lifting the side up the league standings. So three points would be a much-needed pick-me-up with Hearts still on minus two points for the season.
Smith added: “Getting back to zero will give us confidence to start getting points on the board and putting pressure on the teams above us. We need to get there first. It’s going to take a run of games, we need to try to get confidence. If we get the win against Partick we can take it from there and try to build.”
The elevation of youth players to the first-team ranks has been vastly accelerated. It leaves them bearing the weight of expectation day in, day out at a point in their careers when they should be being nurtured by experienced pros.
Smith was one of those who had at least tasted regular competitive first-team action, during loan spells at Raith Rovers. He was also shrewd enough to recognise the magnitude of the challenge facing Hearts this season and the opportunity it affords him. That’s why he spent his summer holiday in Florida combining fun and sunshine with gym sessions. But despite the sad face on Thursday night, he is still positive.
“We’re all young and it maybe is a good thing for boys like myself to get the opportunity and get experience. There is obviously massive pressure to play for Hearts and to try to keep the team in the league. It does feel like pressure but we’re not weighed down by it.”