Hearts ready to fend off Aberdeen this time around - with Craig Halkett available to do it

The Jambos defender watched on helplessly as Dons overhauled them last season an doesn’t plan on relinquishing third place again

Craig Halkett said he had no hesitation when it came to signing a new contract at Hearts. And, having watched on helplessly from the sidelines as the Gorgie club were overhauled by eventual Premiership third-place finishers Aberdeen last term, he would love to reward the club’s loyalty by making sure the same thing does not happen again.

As it stands, the Pittodrie side are seventh in the table, 16 points adrift of Hearts in third – albeit with three games in hand – and they travel to Tynecastle on Saturday hoping to eat into that gap. But, fresh from agreeing a new deal that ties him to the capital outfit until summer 2026, Halkett, who only made his competitive return to action in early December after nine months out with an ACL injury, has other plans.

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“Every game matters but these are ones that you really want to win, especially on the back of last year and the great position we were in before we chucked it away, said the centre-half. “So, we want to show that this year we are pushing hard to be third.”

Hearts lost to Aberdeen at Pittodrie in December - but since then have been on a fine run of form.Hearts lost to Aberdeen at Pittodrie in December - but since then have been on a fine run of form.
Hearts lost to Aberdeen at Pittodrie in December - but since then have been on a fine run of form.

Part of the squad that had set themselves up for a top three finish last season, the defender was a frustrated observer as Aberdeen put together a well-timed surge for the finish line, leaving Hearts to settle for fourth. “That was obviously difficult, especially when you are sitting there and there’s nothing you can do to help,” Halkett continued. “You are about the boys in the changing room, before and at half-time, but there’s only so much you can do and you just have to sit there and hope. We had the change of management and the boys picked up, and we managed to get fourth but when we finished the season there was a real sense of disappointment that we didn’t consolidate third place.”

Returning from his knee injury on December 9, Halkett was given 18 minutes against Aberdeen at Pittodrie but Hearts lost 2-1. Recent stats would suggest a different outcome at Tynecastle as the Gorgie hosts have not lost any of the past ten head-to-heads on their own turf. “I think at the start of the season, the aims and the demands of both of the clubs are similar but to be honest it is just the next game,” said Hearts manager Steven Naismith, who has seen his men battle back from two-goal deficits in the previous two home league games, to draw with Ross County and defeat Dundee. “The biggest thing I have realised over the years of being in football is you don't really care about anyone else, it's about what we do. We've done really good work up until now and every time we win it just puts pressure on everyone else. That's all we can do.”

The Edinburgh side currently enjoy an eight-point lead over the chasing pack and have been buoyed by the fact that, despite speculation, there have been no bids tabled for Lawrence Shankland and Alex Cochrane, the players who picked up knocks on Tuesday night have returned to training and key performers are returning from injury. Halkett has warned that it will still take guys like himself time to get back to their best.

Describing the call he received on Christmas Eve last year to confirm he had damaged his ACL and faced such a long spell on the sidelines as the low point of his entire career, he said he is now looking to make up for lost time but knows that the reality is he will have to be patient. “To be away from football for that long is really difficult ...” said Halkett. “But Naisy has been through so many injuries in his career and while he wanted me to come back and play as well as I can, he knows I’m not going to be 100 per cent yet and that it will take eight, nine, ten games to get back. Match sharpness only comes with playing games.

Craig Halkett has signed a new contract with Hearts.Craig Halkett has signed a new contract with Hearts.
Craig Halkett has signed a new contract with Hearts.

“As much as you think about coming back and playing that first game and hoping that it will all just click, deep down everybody knows that it doesn’t happen. Boycey and Beni have both come back from the same injury and they told me that when you do have down days, don’t dwell on it. They are there to pick you up so it is about digging deep and getting your head down and working hard.”

Seeing the endeavour that went into his comeback, Hearts offered Halkett the new deal before he had even returned to first-team action and that show of faith made things easy. “I was delighted,” the 28-year-old admitted. “It was a no-brainer from my point of view. Having been through what I’ve been through and having the help of the club, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind at any point that if I came back and started playing well that I would look for a move. I want to be here.”

Securing long-term deals for their best players is something Naismith wants to see Hearts doing more of. “In general clubs aren’t the best at rewarding players at the right times,” explained the Hearts gaffer. “Players get the raw end of the deal in terms of contracts running down. We need to be in the position of identifying value and rewarding them. If we do it at the right time it sends a message about the kind of club we are and how we want to work. Hopefully in the next few weeks there will be a few announcements about players on new deals, that’s all the way through the professional side of the club, the 18s, the B team, and the first team. If someone’s done loads of hard work they deserve it. It teaches the youngers ones to work harder. Halks was last week and hopefully there’ll be a few more. You want to keep the ones that bring value, short-term, medium, and long-term.”