Patience key as Hearts take final step to title

NO SANE or honest person would ever say that anyone gifted Hearts the title. The result against Falkirk may not have been enough to seal the deal – only Hibs’ defeat by Rangers yesterday officially rendered them incapable of catching the Tynecastle side – but it has been that ability to pick up victory after victory with metronomic reliability which has wrapped things up with so much of the campaign remaining.

Winger Jamie Walker celebrates scoring Hearts opening goal in their 3-0 victory. Picture: SNS
Winger Jamie Walker celebrates scoring Hearts opening goal in their 3-0 victory. Picture: SNS

“If you had said to me at the start of the season it was going to go like this I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” admitted captain Danny Wilson, after another three points took them 23 points clear of Hibs and ensured those closest to them could not afford any more slip-ups.

“But the way the season has panned out, we’ve been going about our business in the right fashion and we’ve got our results out on the pitch. But if you had asked me at the start of the season whether I thought the gap would have been this big, no.”

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In the 29 games it took to conclude matters, Robbie Neilson’s men have won 25, drawn three and lost just one. That defeat came at the hands of Falkirk back in January, which reminded everyone that there would be no easy route to the win they needed on Saturday to edge to within touching distance of the title.

Winger Jamie Walker celebrates scoring Hearts opening goal in their 3-0 victory. Picture: SNS

Peter Houston’s men have been in fine form, unbeaten in 2015 and losing just once since Hearts last visited them in November. It has taken them to the outskirts of the play-off places and has them poised in a perfect position to push for inclusion before things are 
settled at the beginning of May.

But despite taking a little time to settle into a rhythm against confident opponents, by the time the final whistle blew, Hearts had still managed to rattle in three goals without reply and given their fans the right to party.

It was a snapshot of a season which has yielded an impressive goal difference and a championship. Even when not at their best, Hearts have found a way to triumph over their foes, keeping their strikers at bay while finding the breakthrough at the other end.

Having scored 84 goals and only conceded 18, if they were to maintain that scoring average they would exceed the 100-goal mark before the end of the term.

Sometimes the task has been simpler, but on days like Saturday they have had to be patient and work hard for their rewards. They scored their first goal in the 28th minute, courtesy of Jamie Walker. Osman Sow was the architect, breaking forward on the left before supplying his team-mate, who swept the ball into the net from a central area.

Just one minute after the interval, Género Zeefuik turned Jamie Walker’s cross into the net. The impetus for the third came from Neilson’s 80th minute substitution, sending on James Keatings for the big Dutchman. Within a minute, the score was 3-0 as Keatings belted an angled drive across the face of MacDonald’s goal and into the net.

It meant they were poised on the brink of turning the long-held promise of the title win into reality.

“It has been difficult, you know,” said Wilson. “Since maybe late December and early January people have had us installed as champions.

“It’s been tough, not so much to keep your standards up but to put to one side what everyone is saying about you. But by and large we have done that. We’ve only had one defeat and one draw since the turn of the year and that’s pretty good going.”