Craig Wighton says he has reached a stage in his career where he needs to progress. If that is the target then he appears to have joined the right team.
Collectively, Hearts are a club who have done plenty of that. On and off the park, the advances made in a year are obvious. The comfortable victory over St Mirren on Saturday kept them clear at the top of the table, the only side with a 100 per cent record, and extended their unbeaten start to the season to nine matches. It is a far cry from this time last term and with so many new arrivals, and a growing sense of belief, the signs are that there is more to come.
Among those new recruits is the 21-year-old former Dundee attacker who can now look to enjoy life at the top end of the table rather than battling for scraps in the lower reaches, while, personally, he knows that he can only learn from training and playing alongside the likes of Saturday’s hat-trick hero Steven Naismith.
With a penalty, a header and a clinical low strike, he completed his treble before half-time, while he also weighed in with an assist for Olly Lee’s goal, dismantling a poor Paisley side, who, despite pulling one back through a Jimmy Dunne own goal, must have feared the worst.
Naismith’s first-half performance was a masterclass in getting the job done and should have Scotland manager Alex McLeish sitting up to take notice, but such are the veteran forward’s standards, even that wasn’t good enough, as he critiqued a performance he believed could have been even better.
Without their injured captain Christophe Berra, and without their manager Craig Levein, who is still recovering after being whisked to hospital on Monday morning with a heart problem, Naismith took the game by the scruff of the neck and made sure that the team gave their gaffer something to smile about on the back of a difficult week.
“You look at his career and it’s absolutely brilliant,” said Wighton, who was disappointed not to make more of a headed chance late in the game. “Steven MacLean as well. They’re such good players to learn from and that was another factor in me coming here. Wee tips or anything they can give me, I’ll take that on board. And if I can have a career as good as them, I’d be happy with that.”
Wighton, pictured, came on for his debut with the score already 4-1 but says the fact that Naismith was still moaning was an indication of the lofty demands at his new club.
“Yeah, but it just shows it’s got to be like that,” he added. “If you want to go to the next level and you want to keep winning games, you’ve got to keep demanding more and, at the end of the day, you can always get better. Today was positive but there’s always things to work on.
“In the first half the boys were excellent and it makes it easier, when you are coming on into a team that is full of
The opening goal came from the spot in only the fourth minute after Uche Ikpeazu was felled. Naismith was clinical in getting the better of Saints goalkeeper Craig Samson and although the visitors, who were dominated throughout the majority of the afternoon, managed to get some joy down the left and applied enough pressure from Cammy Smith’s ball into the area that Dunne deflected it past Zdenek Zlamal, Naismith played in Lee at the back post after half an hour and then wrapped things up with a headed finish in the 40th minute and a shot across the keeper that tucked neatly inside the far post two minutes later.
Stand-in captain John Souttar had to clear off the line late on as St Mirren looked to salvage a modicum of pride but even that was denied them by a Hearts team high on confidence, gelling well and looking comfortable in their role as Premiership leaders,
Wighton added: “It’s the polar opposite to the start of the season at Dundee – the atmosphere there is not great for a few different reasons. It’s a great place to be. It’s a great start and if you can build on that and have a great team spirit and high confidence, you can achieve whatever you want.
“But we’ll just take it a game at a time and continue trying to win as many games as possible.”
Welcoming Wighton, the team was also bolstered by the return of Manchester United loanee Deme Mitchell and Arnaud Djoum, back after a ten-month injury lay-off, while they have also added to their defensive options and Congolese internationalist Clevid Dikamona will have been impressed by his new team-mates. The French-born 28-year-old centre-back, who has played in France, England, Greece and Israel, has signed a one-year deal with an option to extend that.