NORMAL service will resume at Tynecastle today as Hearts bid to prove that last week’s heavy defeat by Celtic in the William Hill Scottish Cup has been forgotten while they forge ahead in their quest for automatic promotion to the Premiership.
From day one this season, head coach Robbie Neilson’s team have directed their focus on returning to the top flight at the first time of asking, and they entertain Queen of the South in Gorgie this afternoon determined to preserve their nine-point lead at the top of the Championship table.
Full-back Callum Paterson, who is still bubbling after his call-up to the Scotland squad last month, is adamant that the 4-0 mauling by the Scottish champions last week is an irrelevance as far as their primary mission is concerned and Hearts are ready to pick up where they left off, having previously stretched their unbeaten run in the league to 14 matches.
The 20-year-old said: “Results have gone well for us so far in the league. We’re playing well and scoring goals so, hopefully, that will continue to be the norm throughout the season.
“The Celtic result won’t affect that. If anything, it will make us more focused on winning the league. That’s what we set out to do at the start of the season. If we’d got to the end of the season and won the Scottish Cup but finished fourth in the league, everyone would see the season as a failure. But, if we win the league and do nothing else, it will be a massive achievement by everyone.”
Hearts welcome skipper Danny Wilson, Dale Carrick and Sam Nicholson back to their squad but will be without midfielder Morgaro Gomis, who would have been suspended for today’s match even before his dismissal against Celtic, which Paterson believes had a major influence on the outcome of the cup match.
“The early red card changed everything,” he said. “They were always going to be favourites. That just added to it. We were there to play football – and we did – but the result didn’t go our way at the end of the day.”
Having enjoyed his first taste of being a member of the senior Scotland squad, after his inclusion for last month’s double-header against the Republic of Ireland and England, Paterson is sure that the experience will help him become a better player at domestic level.
“That [call-up] was the last thing I was expecting after getting a red card at Easter Road,” he explained. “I was beating myself up about it afterwards. I couldn’t get it out of my head. So to then get a phone call from [Scotland manager] Gordon Strachan really helped me get back on my feet. He asked me what was going through my head against Hibs – it was red mist. But that’s in the past now and, hopefully, I can move on.
“I trained with the full team a couple of times last year. We didn’t play for the 21s the night before, so we were sent along to do the running for the first team. I really enjoyed that and to be part of it this time around was even better.
“It was great to be away. I really enjoyed it, and I’m thankful to everyone who made it such a good experience. I learned massive amounts about the way certain people train and how they play. You can see the difference between the English Premier League and the Scottish one.
“The players are just bigger, fitter – and they obviously have more money. They’re just more professional in the way they go about the game. It’s what everyone needs to look up to and aspire to.
“I didn’t know I’d be on the bench against England until we got to the game. I was expecting to be in the background but, when I walked in, my strip was hanging up. So that was a massive buzz. My family were all there. They were just happy to be there. They probably knew I wasn’t going to get on, but they were there to support me all the same.
“Just being there, singing the national anthem and wearing the strip was massive. Hopefully I can go one better next time and get on the pitch.
“To get a call-up from any league is massive – it’s a huge thing to represent your country. Hopefully it shows the way this league is – it’s not the bad teams who are in the Championship. There are good teams in both leagues.”
Having been born south of the Border, Paterson acknowledges that being involved in the match against England, despite the Scots’ 3-1 defeat, made the week more special for him.
“I was born in London, but I moved up when I was three so I see myself as Scottish,” he said. “So to be involved against England, where I was born, for my own country meant a lot.
“I actually had four choices. My dad is Scottish, my mum’s from Zimbabwe and my granddad is South African. But Scotland is my country. I could play for all of those. But this is my home and who I would rather play for.”