Nonetheless, Kenny Anderson is confident the Tynecastle side can peak for the kick-off to the new competitive campaign in under a fortnight’s time and will hit the ground running in a decisive manner similar to the way they did in the Championship 12 months ago to spark their title triumph.
Following defeats by Dumbarton and Stirling Albion and a draw with Cowdenbeath, albeit with a mixtures of recognised first-team “stars” and fringe players, Hearts suffered another reverse away to newly-promoted English Championship side Preston North End at the weekend.
While losses at this point can be shrugged off, the trip south to Deepdale may prove to be substantially more costly because of a knee knock sustained by striker Soufian El Hassnaoui. With injuries having also curtailed the involvement of new striker Juanma as well as Alim Ozturk, Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben in recent weeks, the Gorgie outfit could have wished for a more seamless transition back to the top flight.
However, Anderson is optimistic the Jambos’ preparations will come good as they await the visit of St Johnstone for their league curtain-raiser on 2 August and Arbroath in the League Cup three days earlier. Memories of the opening-day victory over Rangers at Ibrox that set the tone for last term’s Championship success remain fresh and, with Dundee, Motherwell, Ross County, Partick Thistle and Hamilton Accies to face in August before a more testing September, Hearts are seeking to build an early head of steam yet again.
“Pre-season has been quite hard, actually,” said Anderson. “There are a lot of games, more games than I’m used to, but it’s good to get the fitness work in. We’ve been to Ireland and England, so we’ve been on the road as well. That’s good for team bonding – although a lot of players from last year are still here, there are some new players as well. The results maybe haven’t been what we expected but it’s still pre-season and it’s about getting the fitness in. The most important thing is to be ready come 2 August.
“We’ve had some injuries in pre-season but that can always happen when you get back into full training. Most of the players will be fit for 2 August – I think we are ready. A good start is always very important and we have a chance to pick up points at the start of the season.”
Anderson, who was born in the Netherlands but has a Scottish father, joined from Dutch outfit RKC Waalwijk midway through last term on an 18-month deal and believes he is personally benefiting from, this time, being with his team-mates for the vitally important pre-season build-up.
Like the others persuaded to join under Neilson and director of football Craig Levein, the 23-year-old will now get to taste the standard of football they always craved after dragging the club back from the second tier in such admirable fashion last season.
Having previously followed Scottish football from afar due to his family background in this country, the attacking midfielder is relishing the prospect of savouring the Premiership.
However, not only is it an exciting season for the Dutchman, Anderson confesses it is also an important one in his career as he enters the final year of his contract at Tynecastle with the intention of proving he is worth a longer stay in his ancestral homeland.
“My contract is until next summer so, from that perspective, it’s a big season for me,” he added. “I have a lot of competition for my position, so I have to show myself in pre-season and in training. Hopefully I’ll get enough game time to earn a longer stay.
“I knew when I came here that I signed a one-and-a-half-year deal. Is that pressure? It’s just football. You’re always under pressure. You have to perform and that will determine whether you sign a new contract or if you have to move on. We’ll see about that in a couple of months but I’d be glad to stay.
“I’ve only seen the Scottish Premiership on television and heard stories. Games at Celtic Park and places like that are what you look forward to. It was good to experience Scottish football last season but it wasn’t at the highest level. Now we’re back at the top level and I’m looking forward to playing in the Premiership.”
l Anderson was speaking as DPS Group and Hearts launched a major sponsorship agreement to support key community football activity at Tynecastle.