When Steven MacLean signed for Hearts, he wasn’t hailed as a marquee acquisition. His age and intermittent injury woes made some wonder if he was worth the gamble.
It gave him something to prove and the early signs are that it was a shrewd move and that he will be an asset to the Gorgie squad as they seek to improve on last season’s sixth place finish.
“People were always going to be sceptical. But the gaffer knew what I could do – and I knew what I could do,” said MacLean after scoring his third goal for Hearts’ in their 4-1 win at Hamilton.
“To be honest, I actually like it when people write you off. It’s quite a good thing, if you’ve got a bit about yourself and you know how to respond to it.
“When people write you off, you either go under, or, if you’ve got a wee bit about you, you can have a cheeky grin to yourself and prove them wrong. As my old friend, Steven Anderson, used to say: ‘Get it up them!’ ”
That attitude seems to be shared by a number of players in this new-look Hearts team, if the way they bounced back from losing the first goal in this encounter is a true indication of their mentality.
Hamilton came at the capital side early in this league opener and the dynamism of the frontline posed numerous difficulties and forced Zdenek Zlamal to make some swift action to get off his line and deny Rakish Bingham. With 16 minutes gone, visiting defender Aaron Hughes should have cleared while under pressure, but his dawdling allowed Mickel Miller to nip in between him and Zlamal and stab the ball into the net.
The reaction, though, was a positive one by a club that is determined to improve on a historically poor away record.
Within three minutes the visitors had restored parity when the impressive Peter Haring made it third time lucky from successive set pieces. His first two headers from corners were blocked or tipped away and although the next one was delivered too long, when it was swung back into the danger area, he again rose higher than anyone else and this time he refused to be denied.
One of several savvy players who know how to link up play, find space when necessary but also plug gaps, the Austrian who was signed as a defender once again looked a class act in midfield and was a vital cog in Hearts’ success, weighing in with more than just goals.
Bursting to prove themselves, Hearts started the second half with extra vigour and in a bruising 13-minute period they blew their hosts away, with three goals that gave Hamilton no room for adequate recourse.
The first, in the 49th minute, was a penalty after some determined work by Uche Ikpeazu, who played the ball into space in the box and Steven Naismith, pictured, was the first to pounce but was clattered for his trouble. He punished Hamilton by scoring from the spot. Hearts’ third was Haring’s second and came in the 57th minute, when the ball was played into a congested penalty box. He showed great composure to bring the ball down, shut out the rush of red and white shirts and sidefoot it into the net.
The fourth was just reward for MacLean’s efforts as he sent an angled drive across keeper Gary Woods and into the net.
“It was a great result for us, especially after coming from a goal behind,” said the former St Johnstone striker. “That just shows the mentality we have in the squad with all the new boys coming in.
“We weren’t great in the first half and a lot of people come unstuck here at Hamilton because it’s a difficult venue. So to come from behind and win 4-1 was testament to the boys we have in our dressing room.”
It also suggests that with or without last season’s top striker, Kyle Lafferty, who came on late in the game, there are goals in this Hearts squad and a whole lot more promise than has perhaps been the case for a couple of seasons.
For Hamilton, though, there clearly remains work to do. They worked hard and competed for periods but the consisteny and concentration throughout the 90 minutes was lacking, which is something manager Martin Canning will have to address.