Steven Naismith knows that people expect Premiership leaders Hearts to fall away as the season progresses and injuries start to mount but he says he did not return to the capital club with sights set on leapfrogging double treble winners Celtic.
He did sign up for another term at Tynecastle with the intention of giving the likes of Rangers, Aberdeen, Hibernian and Kilmarnock a run for their money, though.
Forced to settle for a disappointing sixth place finish last season, a positive start to the current campaign has taken the club to the top of the league standings and seen them through to the semi-finals of the Betfred League Cup. Naismith’s contribution to that, which includes nine goals, has earned him a recall to the Scotland set up – for whom he scored two goals in four appearances – and saw him named Ladbrokes Premiership Player of the Month for September.
But defeat to Rangers in their last match prior the international break, allied to the news that key men John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu could each be out for up to five months due to injury, will test the mettle.
As will the upcoming run of fixtures, against the likes of Aberdeen, Hibs and Celtic and Naismith knows people will be studying the results and using them to build or dismantle the team’s prospects. He accepts there is nothing the players can do to stop that but they can ensure that they maintain their equilibrium and focus on the job in hand, starting against Derek McInnes’ men at Tynecastle this afternoon.
“I don’t think each result in this run of games is going mean ‘we’re a good team or we are this or that team’. They’re the games that everybody wants to play in and both teams think they’re going to win but injuries and the way the team’s performing are going to have an effect on it.
“The one thing we can take from the way we have started is that we are good enough to be in that top mix. Simple as that. Before these games and after them, we’ll be good enough to play all these teams and we should be fighting among them to be in these top spots.
“It’s a big month in terms of the quality of games and what’s at stake with a semi-final but that’s why we’re all here.”
Describing his loan spell from January to May as a bit of a grind, referencing his own fitness as well as the fortunes of club who everyone accepts underperformed last term.
But with a full pre-season under his belt and a freshness to the squad, things have improved.
“I’ve looked at last season when we were in a no-man’s land. We were above the bottom teams but we were miles away from the top teams. And it was all about getting among those top teams and fighting it out.
“That’s what we’ve done, we’ve managed to get results many different ways and shown we should be up there. That’s all we can ask. The Old Firm are definitely favourites to push on and create a gap between the rest. But Hibs, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, ourselves and even Livingston to an extent have got something to say about that.”
Although he doesn’t believe he will ever mellow or curb his on-field moaning, after finding himself on the periphery at parent club Norwich City and then battling to find his best form when he initially arrived at Hearts, the 32-year-old is relishing the Indian summer of his career.
“As I’ve got older I have realised this is a profession where one day you wake up and you just can’t play any more and that’s driven me on. I am going to appreciate every moment.”