In their past five league matches, the Jambos have picked up a maximum 15-point haul and have scored 19 goals in the process. Queen of the South were dismantled 6-1, Ayr United vanquished 5-3, and in their latest match on Tuesday, Arbroath were routinely swatted aside 3-1. Since an uncharacteristic slip-up away at Dunfermline on November 20, Hearts have been relentless in their quest for the title.
Steven Naismith, who scored a six-minute first-half hat-trick in the victory over Arbroath, reckons Hearts are hitting their stride after a bitty start to the campaign, interrupted by international call-ups for several first-team players and the distraction – welcomed, of course – of the Scottish Cup semi-final derby against Hibs. The squad has had several weeks to train together fully and it is showing during matches.
“At the start of the season we had the semi-final and final then international games and it was stop-start,” said Naismith. “The performances on the back of that suffer a little bit. We have picked the same boys and that helps and all the boys are understanding each other and where to go on the pitch. We have faced a lot of teams who sit in and that’s tricky to start with but you learn from doing it.”
Naismith admits that on a personal level, he took time to find his stride. He took home the match ball from Tynecastle after his exploits and believes lockdown made it harder to come back and hit the ground running.
“I haven’t scored as many as I would have liked,” continued the 34-year-old. “It puts me back among the boys at the top of the charts. I had a slow start in terms of a few wee niggles but that was probably lockdown being too long for someone my age! Your body takes a bit of a pounding and that was the biggest frustration and it is nice to be in a rhythm now.”
Hearts will look to continue their excellent league form when they travel to Dens Park on Saturday evening for a match against Dundee, who come into this match in better fettle than when they were blown away 6-2 at Tynecastle on the opening day of the campaign in October.
“They will want to put a marker down, especially after the first game of the season, and say they are going to challenge for the title,” added Naismith. “We will need to be ready as it will be a different game as they are at home and they will fancy their chances. They have been on a good run and they have got a few consistent wins. It is a dangerous game but we will be ready for it.
“We want to increase the gap and every game we play is all about winning. We don’t really look at the other teams, if we can keep winning the gap will become bigger. You don’t want to get to the point where there is a nervousness to our performance. We have been good at that so far and that’s what everyone keeps saying, just concentrate on the next game.”