Hearts ‘out of intensive care but still on the ward’ says Craig Levein

Craig Levein’s chosen analogy
serves as a reminder that while things are looking better than they did a week ago, no-one in the Hearts dressing room or the stands should get carried away.

Craig Levein has told the Hearts squad to find mental fortitude for this afternoons trip to Paisley. Picture: SNS.

“We’re out of intensive care, I think. But we’re still on the ward,” he said when assessing the club’s footballing fortunes. With tensions high, everything was looking rather grim prior to Sunday’s Edinburgh derby win, which moved them away from the foot of the table, and since then the midweek League Cup quarter-final triumph has helped turn even more frowns upside down.

But the Hearts manager, who strove to encourage a sense of equilibrium throughout the tough start to the season, is working hard to maintain that now on the back of two mood-enhancing victories.

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Fully aware of how quickly things can turn, he knows that today’s trip to Paisley to face St Mirren will pose his men a different conundrum, where they will again be favourites.

Similar scenarios, against Ross County and Hamilton, proved troublesome, but this time they will head into the game with influential signings such as Glenn Whelan and Ryo Meshino up to speed and confidence levels bolstered by their last two results.

“It’s a very different test this Saturday and the players will be tested, without a doubt,” stressed Levein. “Without all the bells and whistles that went with the last two matches, it will be tough.

“We’re back to the bread and butter of league football and we’ve really tried in the last couple of days to keep our focus on this match, not get too excited about what has happened in the recent past. It’s about finding mental fortitude to go out and find the focus and the energy required.”

Regardless how professional players are, there won’t be the same adrenaline surge for an encounter with Jim Goodwin’s men as there was when facing their biggest foes or contesting a trip to Hampden.

But that is where players have to generate that inner excitement needed to fuel the competitive edge themselves, according to Steven MacLean.

The striker scored Hearts’ first goal on Wednesday, celebrated in front of the away fans and was also involved in a feisty confrontation with former Rangers colleague, Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes.

“Me and Del have had a 
couple of run-ins before and we had a chat at half-time,” he said. “I got him in a headlock going up the tunnel but we are having a laugh! It happened in the derby last year with Lewis Stevenson. For 90 minutes you do what you need to do and at the end of the game you shake hands and get on with it. I like to get myself going and it helps get everyone else going as well. It is good for spectators.

“In the semi-final when I was at St Johnstone, it was like a running commentary. Del was at the side and I was running past him and when I ran back again we were still screaming at each other but we dropped each other a text afterwards. I know him from playing with him at Rangers. Well, we were in the gym together because the two of us were injured all the time! It gets you going but it’s just craic.”

Internal steel, man-made motivation and the blossoming of certain players have all helped turn things around, with Irish midfielder Whelan underlining his quality and competitive edge in the latest big games.

“When the chips are down, he’s been excellent,” said Levein. “Off the field and on the field. But you don’t play at the level he has been at for that amount of time without having real mental strength and quality.”

St Mirren’s Tony Andreu believes now is not a bad time to be facing Hearts, despite their recent turnaround.

“We are positive,” said the midfielder. “We know it’s going to be a tough game – they play a bit differently than the teams we’ve played so far – but we’re confident and we’re at home so we definitely come to get the three points.

“I don’t think we’re playing them at the wrong time or anything. They are the same team. They’ve just picked up some points, which we could have done as well in the last couple of games.”

Saints have won only once in their opening six games, though they have not been beaten by more than a single goal so far, and Andreu believes if they can start finding the net more often, the wins will come.

He said: “I think we could have deserved more points, but that’s football and sometimes it doesn’t go your way.

“Against Rangers, we lost 1-0 but they were the better team by far. Other than that I think we could have picked up points anywhere.

“If you can score more goals – and I think that’s where we’ve struggled this season – there is no reason why we can’t win games.”