HEARTS were stretched to the limit by Wolfsburg on Wednesday night but there was no mistaking the spring in their step. Although the Germans looked like they could easily move up a few gears if they had to, Gary Locke’s side – even younger and more inexperienced than usual thanks to a few changes – never looked intimidated.
The reason for that, as Dylan McGowan explained after the fundraising friendly ended in a goalless draw, was simple. After eight league games in which Hearts earned only one point, Saturday’s win at Aberdeen has left them full of self-belief.
“The Aberdeen result gave us a huge lift,” the Australian centre-half said.
“The thing with us is every loss feels like the end of the world at the moment because of the 15-point deduction.
“If you look at the table we have more points [discounting the deduction] than we did last year. So I think the boys have to take confidence from that and go into games not worrying about the result and more about the performance, and the results will come.
“I think it [the Aberdeen game] was the first time in a couple of weeks that we did ourselves justice as a playing group, that we stood up and answered the call. The last couple of weeks haven’t been great, especially because we’ve been losing to the teams all around us, and you always feel a bit more defeated after those kind of games. But we started the season off really well and, hopefully, we can get back to that form, and start climbing the table.
“We have a chance to build some momentum now. We’re looking for a little bit of consistency and if we can find that by beating Ross County [on Saturday week] that will have been three good results on the bounce and we’ll be confident going into the following week.
“The feelgood factor is massive and we had lost that over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully the Aberdeen result and this one will help us and we can take it into the Ross County game and take the three points.”
The “three good results” to which McGowan referred included the League Cup quarter-final against Hibs, which Hearts won 1-0. They lost to St Johnstone three days after that, apparently flat after the exhilaration of beating their city rivals in what turned out to be Pat Fenlon’s last match in charge of Hibs.
But the derby win, combined with the 3-1 victory in Aberdeen, reminded the squad that, no matter their inexperience, they are a talented lot. And the way in which they competed against Wolfsburg gave them further evidence of that, as McGowan added.
“It was a great test for us, especially being such a young side, to get to play a team of the calibre of Wolfsburg. I think all of the boys would have learned a huge amount from the game and hopefully it will hold us good stead for our own league.
“There’s not a team in our league that could live with Wolfsburg at full strength, so the fact they came over says a lot for them and I think they respected the game. I think the boys will take huge confidence, because you’re not going to play a team of that standard unless you’re in Europe.
“They’re fourth in the Bundesliga at the moment and they beat Borussia Dortmund last weekend, so we couldn’t have been given a much sterner test. They came here and played very well and we’re proud of our performance as well.
“We were missing two of our players from our back four” – full-backs Kevin McHattie and Jordan McGhee – “so it was a bit of a makeshift back four, but the boys who came in did well and did their chances of playing next weekend no harm.
“As a defender you always look to keep a clean sheet first and take it from there, and we did that and limited them to very few chances. They’re a good team, but we limited them.”