Craig Levein has described Hearts’ position at the top of the Premiership as similar to being in front after five miles of a marathon.
The Tynecastle manager was sure to add the cautionary note that the leader at this stage doesn’t always win the race.
Levein will resist the urge to make multiple changes as Hearts attempt to open up a six-point lead at the top of the Premiership against Dundee tonight. But he is under no illusion as to how hard it will be to maintain this position over the course of the campaign.
A brutal schedule sees Hearts playing five games in 14 days. They have already negotiated the first, beating Aberdeen on Saturday. Now they face a trip to Dens Park for a match brought forward from this weekend due to Hearts’ Betfred Cup semi-final with Celtic at BT Murrayfield.
There is a suggestion the SPFL leaned on Hearts to accept this new date for the Dundee game. The Tynecastle club were granted a venue switch to BT Murrayfield following complaints about the Betfred Cup semi-final’s original scheduling for Hampden on Sunday evening.
“At first I thought we did [have the option to move it later] but it seemed once the game went to Murrayfield then… but I’m not going to complain about it,” said Levein. “We have to play it at some point. Celtic have got a game this midweek [against RB Leipzig] as well.”
Levein is determined to put the pressure on Celtic and other title rivals with a victory at Dens, where Hearts have failed to win on their last three visits. But asked how Hearts can resist an expected charge from the resurgent champions while also fending off other challengers, he replied: “By winning every game?
“That would just about do it. It’s a test of endurance. It’s like the marathon and after five miles we are in front. There are a lot of people who are in front after fives miles of a marathon who haven’t won.
“What’s important for me is we keep going game by game and keep working really hard.”
Despite the arduous schedule, Levein does not plan to make too many alterations to the side this evening. “That [resting players] went through my head, then I realised – I am not very clever sometimes – that we have just had an international break,” he explained. “The players have had a rest. The only ones who have not had a rest are the ones who were involved on international duty. So, there is no need to rest or make wholesale changes.”
Levein revealed he will start negotiations to extend Jimmy Dunne’s loan spell as soon as possible. The centre-half has been excellent since arriving from Burnley after skipper Christophe Berra sustained a hamstring injury. His current deal is due to expire in January.