Hearts have hectic week but believe they could not have hand-picked better game to right wrongs
The Jambos have lost six of their last seven matches, resulting in slipping down the cinch Premiership standings and exiting the Scottish Cup. Saturday’ 2-0 home defeat culminated in manager Robbie Neilson being sacked and while interim boss Steven Naismith has already been making the kind of high demands synonymous with his match-day persona throughout a high-level playing career, Hearts current on-field leader Shankland says that only counts if the players respond in the right manner.
“A few of the boys who played with him say he’s quite similar as a coach to what he was like as a player,” revealed Shankland. “He’s quite demanding. Listen, any manager can be demanding, but it’s about what you bring to games as an individual. That’s what we need to find in ourselves and if everyone brings their best to the games, it gives the collective the best chance of getting a performance. We’ll look to get everyone firing again.
“There’s always a bit of a transition but the majority of the boys will have been in this situation before with managers changing, I know I certainly have. It’s been a hectic week but we are going into a derby game we need to win, and that’s what we will be concentrating on. Naisy is putting his ideas across and it’s up to us to execute them.”
Shankland’s goal tally of four goals in three Edinburgh derbies shows he has that clinical edge when it comes to netting against the Gorgie club’s city rivals. The first, in August, opened his Hearts’ account, while the two in the most recent Scottish Cup tussle made history as he became the first Jambo to score at least 20 in a season since John Robertson in 1991/92.
“Any derby is massive, but especially this one after the week we’ve had and the run of form we’re on,” continued the Scotland forward. “We probably couldn’t have hand-picked a better game to put things right. It’ll be a tough game going to Easter Road. They are in a sticky spell as well but we’ll go with a clear idea of what we want to do that will give us a good chance of getting a result.
“I feel confident. Obviously that needs to seep through the squad and make sure we are ready for the game. But I’ve no concerns about the boys being motivated. That comes naturally with these games. It’s massive and probably easier to get up for than other ones. I have a good record of scoring in these games and hopefully get more this weekend.”
Netting two in the last trip across the city, he was then sent off for a controversial booking and missed Stephen Humphrys scoring the third goal in a memorable victory. “It was strange emotions,” Shankland admitted. “It was great to get the 20th goal but then there was the frustration at getting sent off for kicking fresh air! That was a sore one but the main thing was it didn’t cost us.
“It was a strange one celebrating the third in the tunnel. I had to FaceTime the missus to see the celebrations outside. If you look at recent results, it tells you something has gone wrong. The important thing is there is plenty of football left to play and we can salvage it.”