Disappointed not to be involved in the Scottish Cup last weekend, the Tynecastle squad worked to turn that negative into a positive as the team bonded and the manager succeeded in getting his message across in double sessions.
After the recent disturbing run of games without a win, the message had been clear – everyone would continue to work hard to turn things around. True to their word, they reaped their reward against a Hamilton team teetering on the brink of the relegation spot and unable to offer anywhere near enough resistance.
This was a Hearts display that benefited from a determination to work together to channel their talent into one of their best performances under Ian Cathro.
A four-goal victory, it could actually have been double that by half-time had it not been for the resolve of visiting goalkeeper Gary Woods.
The team left the field to applause, with a valuable three points and a well-deserved confidence boost as they head into a tough run of fixtures, against Aberdeen, Celtic and then St Johnstone.
It served as an evolution, with the squad finally finding the sense of unity and the combined drive and understanding that has been lacking in recent games, the work being put in behind the scenes, on and off the training ground, paying off.
“We have been socialising. We have been going out for lunches together. And we have been staying at training all together, morning and afternoon. That is very important,” said Isma Goncalves, pictured. He is one of the nine additions made in January, who have, he says taken time to adjust.
“We need to get to know each other. Most of the players here are new players, so it’s very important that we got together.
“It was Ian Cathro’s idea. It was the players and their families who were there. I think it has made a difference. It is important. It helps.
“A few of the guys have changed country, their lives have changed. It can take a while but it’s going well. I think if you are happy away from the pitch you will be happy on the pitch.”
Joy has been in short supply as the side struggled to carve out victories in a run of cup and league matches without a win.
But it returned to the pitch and the stands on Saturday as the home team controlled the game and dominated the attacks, setting a high-tempo, passing game, as they pressurised the Hamilton rearguard, dictated matters in the middle of the park and complemented each other.
Comfortable in defence, with Hamilton permitted few chances, Hearts attacked in numbers, through the middle and down the flanks. Crisp passing and overlapping runs were a constant threat. If the open play was commendable, in the end it was set pieces that set them apart.
The opening goal took time to materialise, as patience and mental strength were tested by Woods, who defied Goncalves, Alex Tziolis, Jamie Walker and Sam Nicholson, who battered his goal. But with half time looming Arnaud Djoum eventually found the net.
The goal was met with tangible relief by the home side but it was a blow for the guests, who never looked likely to pull back. Embroiled in a fight for Premiership survival, they would go on to lose a further three goals and the defeat leaves them just one point ahead of bottom club Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The second goal was Goncalves’s first at home for the Gorgie side and came in bizarre circumstances. Woods was fooled by a whistle in the crowd and, thinking the referee had blown for a free kick, picked up a passback. It resulted in a free-kick, converted by the Hearts striker.
Given his heroics in the first half, it was a cruel moment for Woods but his team-mates were not looking for scapegoats. “Gary had made some important saves for us, especially in the first half,” said Massimo Donati. “In the second half they scored some great free-kicks which he couldn’t do anything about. We have now lost ten goals in the last two games, but we just have to try and forget and move on as best we can.”
Walker scored the third goal and it came from another freekick on the edge of the area in the 58th minute, while substitute Malaury Martin wrapped things up with a low drive from another set-piece in the final minute of the match.
Hearts could have felt aggrieved that the scoreline was not even more flattering ,but a win is a win and with fans on side, it proved an afternoon worth savouring.