St Mirren game is most important of my Hearts career, says Craig Halkett

Some will hail it as a positive mindset, others will see it as clutching at straws but looking ahead to Hearts’ latest do-or-die league clash, Craig Halkett is hoping it can provide them with three vitally important points and an even more crucial boost as the season end begins to loom large.

Craig Halkett during Hearts training at the Oriam. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS
Craig Halkett during Hearts training at the Oriam. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

Bottom of the Premiership table, victory over St Mirren tonight would allow them to leapfrog second-bottom Hamilton who play Motherwell tomorrow and move level on points with the Paisley side. But, having failed to capitalise on recent head-to-heads with other teams in the lower half of the standings, the Gorgie side acknowledge that every remaining match has assumed greater significance as a consequence.

“It’s massive and everyone within the club and the dressing room knows how big it is,” said Halkett, the Hearts defender. “We’ve come back from the break and had that result against Rangers but we’re still trying to get it started again and kick on. Hopefully if we get the three points it’ll do that.”

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Since signing for a club he assumed would offer him a shot at silverware and possibly European football, the former Rangers and Livingston man has had to get his head around a more underwhelming scenario and he says that means this evening’s fixture is probably the most important of his Tynecastle tenure.

Hearts manager Daniel Stendel during training. Picture: Ross Parker / SNS

“I think so, just with where we’re sitting in the league and everything else considered, it’s massive,” he said.

The belief is that the capital side will have to make a more positive start than in recent weeks, though, having had to fight back from a two-goal deficit last weekend to earn a draw with Accies, after gifting Kilmarnock an insurmountable three-goal advantage earlier this month.

“That’s been our downfall in the last few weeks,” Halkett said. “We’re giving ourselves a mountain to climb. If we go and we get that early goal then it can maybe change our luck.”

Despite popping up with the equaliser after he was deployed as an auxiliary striker in the final throes of last Saturday’s match with Hamilton, Halkett has been one of those attracting flak from the stands, alongside central defensive partner John Souttar. Adjusting to a new style of play under manager Daniel Stendel, pictured, they have been exposed by the space left by advancing full-backs, while the absence of Michael Smith and then Toby Sibbick robbed them of extra cover ahead of them. The unconvincing performances of the goalkeeper behind them will have done little to steady their nerves.

It has also led to some on-field outbursts from the man touted as a Scotland prospect earlier in the season, which he says is just an outward manifestation of the frustration that has built up over a torturous and high pressure season.

“It’s nothing personal against anyone making mistakes, it’s just me getting angry at the situation we are in and disappointment at losing goals,” said Halkett. “When I signed I didn’t expect to be in this situation but we’re in it and it’s up to ourselves, the players, to get out of it.”

But he says they remain united as a squad and fully behind their manager’s tactics, although he admits there are times when players are caught in two minds. “We’re trying to get things right and play the way the manager wants. In the situation we’re in at 1-0 down [against Hamilton], on the park we have to realise that maybe it’s not on [to play out from the back] and maybe we should go long at that moment in time. That’s a lapse in concentration players have had and then we’ve given the penalty away and ourselves another mountain to climb.

“The manager’s English is fine and I don’t have any problems understanding him at all. I’ve taken on board everything he wants me to do and I understand what he wants; all the players do. We all know how he wants to play football and we work on that. We enjoy training every day and working on the things he is telling us. We always try to take that into the games.

“Going back to the Rangers game [Hearts’ only league win under Stendel], I think you saw a really good performance and most of the things we spoke about and worked on came off. On that day everything worked perfectly and we have all taken on board what he wants to do. We have worked hard in training and shown glimpses in games that we can play that way. But we need to cut out the lapses in concentration and errors which have been our downfall.”