Hearts’ Craig Levein optimistic as he aims to wipe out a nine-point gap

Jamie Walker returns to the Hearts bench in Perth tonight. Picture: SNS.
Jamie Walker returns to the Hearts bench in Perth tonight. Picture: SNS.
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For Craig Levein it is all about perspective. Only a point off the foot of the Premiership table, the Hearts manager states they are also only nine points away from respectability and third spot.

With no-one, outwith Celtic and Rangers, pulling away, he believes that is a deficit his men are capable of overhauling if they can capitalise on the return of key personnel and piece together a winning run.

“We are nine points off third and we have had a torrid spell, but I feel much more positive. One of our biggest problems has been our creativity but Jamie Walker will be on the bench tonight. He is a proven ten-goal plus striker or midfielder in the Premier League and Naisy [Steven Naismith] trained with us from Monday and again he is a 15-20 goals a season striker, so when I see these players coming back and see Uche [Ikpeazu] getting back up to full speed, then scoring goals should become slightly easier.”

In the last four games they have scored only once. They picked up points in three of them, with goalless draws against St Mirren and Livingston and an encouraging 1-1 stalemate with Rangers. But with only one league win so far this season, the manager believes that his men can motor up the table if they can start converting those draws into wins.

Starting that tonight will be a big ask, given recent form on trips to Perth but Levein refuses to dwell on the fact the Gorgie side have not defeated St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in almost a decade, preferring instead to highlight a more comforting record.

“So, we haven’t won in Perth since 2010 but we’re unbeaten in seven against St Johnstone. It is always a difficult place to play and I’ll expect what I usually get up at Perth, which is a tough time.

“St Johnstone will be looking at the same league table I’m looking at and Tommy [Wright, the St Johnstone manager] will be saying ‘I just need two or three wins and I’m in the top half’.”

Given the congested nature of the top flight, every matchday is a game of snakes and ladders, in which the right result allows teams to quickly climb to new heights but defeat can lead to an unceremonious slide, depending on results elsewhere.

“It does feel important but so did Saturday and so did the Rangers game,” said Levein, who is trying not to look too far ahead to Sunday’s League Cup semi-final but knows that a morale-boosting win would be welcome as they head to Hampden. “I feel in some ways that we have turned a corner. On Saturday, having lost Aidy [White] and Jake [Mulraney, to injury], on top of the others who were missing, I thought that was as bad as it could get. So I think we have turned a corner. And the last two performances have been much better. We have been much more like us, much more competitive and if we can keep that level of competition and add in quality then I feel that we will be back on track pretty quickly.”

Tommy Wright wants St Johnstone to build on their first Premiership win of the season after defeating Hamilton 3-2 on Saturday.

The Northern Irishman said: “They should take a lot of confidence from it. We certainly didn’t play like a team that hadn’t had a league victory and were bottom of the table.

“This is just the start. It is small steps. I said to them after the game, obviously enjoy your victory, give yourself a pat on the back, but get ready to go again on Monday.

“For me, Hamilton is gone now. My focus is Hearts and it has been since the final whistle on Saturday and that’s where the players’ focus should be – another opportunity to get three points.”