Michael Smith on how Hearts have replaced pressure with pleasure as he hails impact of new signings

It hasn’t taken Hearts long to find their feet on their return to the Premiership. Seven games in and still unbeaten, competing with Rangers and Hibs at the top of the table, while Celtic and Aberdeen have been left stumbling behind.

Hearts' Michael Smith celebrates after opening the scoring against Livingston. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

After a season in the second tier, which was often viewed as hard-going, the new campaign has, so far, been a mood-enhancing romp, according to Michael Smith, who says that pleasure has replaced the pressure.

“At stages last season, it was a bit of a slog. Teams paid us a lot of respect and sat in, and it was hard to break them down, but in this league teams will come out and try to win the game, so you find little pockets of space and we’re managing to do that now, so hopefully that run continues for us.”

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The fullback, who is thriving in the more advanced wingback role ahead of a back three these days, was often one of the few shining lights as Hearts struggled in recent years and were then forced to deal with the reality of demotion.

But, such has been the apparent success in the club’s transfer dealings, the Northern Irishman, who opened the scoring against Livingston on Saturday, now seems to be in good company.

Midfielder Cameron Devlin was the latest to make his home debut and his highly-energetic assured and competitive performance indicated that he is likely to prove as positive an asset as the likes of his midfield cohort Beni Baningime, who won his side’s 32nd minute penalty, which was clinically converted by Liam Boyce. Up front Boyce was supported by the creative visionaries Barrie McKay and Ben Woodburn and all of them showed their class as Hearts took the game to Livingston.

The presence of Taylor Moore, in for the injured John Souttar, and Alex Cochrane, who popped up with the third and final goal - his first for the club - cemented the view that this summer’s dealings look like money well-spent.

“Definitely. Taylor stepped in, and I thought he was brilliant,” said Smith. “Cammy in the middle of the park must have done 14k, so yeah he brings energy. They’re great players and him and Beni controlled the game for us, so it was a brilliant day.

“[Barrie] is sharp, he’s quick, and he’s going to be a great player for us when he gets 100 per cent fit. He didn’t have a pre-season under his belt, so it’ll take time for him to get fully fit, but you can see already in flashes he’s going to be a fantastic player for us.”

The fact that fitness levels can improve and fledgling partnerships and understandings will continue to develop, all bodes well.

“It’s massive for us,” Smith added. “You look at the way the gaffer wants to play, he’s got real options in that front three area, you have to leave guys who would be starters in most teams on the bench in our squad, but that’s a nice problem for the gaffer to have.”

Already Robbie Neilson’s men have faced Celtic, Hibs and Aberdeen in their opening run and the Hearts boss knows there will be many more tests ahead, including next weekend’s match against Motherwell, but momentum is a valued commodity.

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