Hearts full-back Callum Paterson is confident that Robbie Neilson’s side can at least maintain their position as best of the rest behind champions Celtic but he believes that holding on to striker Osman Sow and midfielder Arnaud Djoum is essential if they are to fend off Aberdeen and St Johnstone.
Sow was an instant hit when he arrived at Tynecastle from Crystal Palace at the beginning of last season, scoring on his debut against Alloa and notching a stoppage-time winner against Rangers at Ibrox in his first full league appearance.
However, the 25-year-old Swede’s contract is due to expire at the end of the campaign and he will be able to negotiate with other clubs when the transfer window reopens in January,
Djoum, the Cameroon-born Belgian, is a more pressing concern for the Hearts directors. Released by Lech Poznan during the summer, the 26-year-old agreed a short-term deal until January in order to put himself in the shop window.
He was first seen as a substitute for Jamie Walker in the 0-0 draw with Celtic at Parkhead and has subsequently scored three times in four starts, including the goal in the 1-1 draw with Dundee on Saturday. Paterson is keeping his fingers crossed that the club can persuade both players to extend their stays in the capital.
“It’s massively important that we keep Arnaud beyond January as he’s scored vital goals for us,” he said. “We would have lost if it wasn’t for him on Saturday. We have him and Osman [coming] out of contract and we want to hold on to them.
“Arnaud is a big guy – he’s fast and strong and he’s good technically. He’s a central midfielder but played off the striker against Dundee and did well. I hadn’t heard of him until he arrived on a six-month contract but he’s shown what he can do.
“He hadn’t played in Scotland before then and it took time to get used to the p****g rain, wind and cold but once he adapted to the weather he settled in well. His English is great – even big Juanma knows ‘yes’ and ‘no’ now so things are looking up.
“Arnaud blends well with Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben. They speak Dutch and French to each other so there’s a good bond. Arnaud’s wife and kid are over here, too, so they’ve taken in all the sights – they’ve been to the Zoo and Deep Sea World!”
Paterson is hoping the experience of living in Edinburgh and regularly playing at what is widely regarded as the most atmospheric stadium in Scotland will work in Hearts’ favour once discussions begin.
“We’ve had capacity crowds in recent weeks and that’s a big selling point when you’re trying to sign players who don’t know that much about the club,” he said.
After 15 fixtures, Hearts are just four points behind leaders Celtic and Paterson sees no reason why they shouldn’t maintain their challenge for a European place next season.
“We’re sitting second in the league, which is a great position for a newly-promoted team to be sitting in,” he said. “We’ve got to have belief that we can stay there but we can’t start aiming too high and talk about winning the title because that kind of talk will backfire.
“It’s important to be realistic. It was a bit of luck for us that Aberdeen didn’t win against Hamilton on Sunday but it would have been better had we won ourselves the day before.
“We didn’t take all three points against Dundee but we’re still second and that’s something to hold on to. Celtic should always be within touching distance at this stage in the season but they’ve got a massive squad and depth and they can pull away.
“So we need to stay focused and try and keep up with them. Any player who has played in the Championship will tell you it’s totally different from the Premiership – you’ve got to be mentally and physically stronger.”
Paterson was asked to model the new Scotland home and away kits in Glasgow on Sunday evening and the Under-21 star admits that he is looking to make the step up sooner rather than later.
“I hope I can get to wear the new strip for the full team and you’ve always got to look at it that you’re trying to catch the eye of someone,” he said.
“We’re playing Motherwell on Saturday so it’s a chance to impress Mark McGhee and he’s a great coach, who I worked with before when I was in the full squad. Mark, the manager and Stuart McCall all took me aside and gave me pointers. They told me what to do and how I’d impressed them and to just continue what I was doing.”