Steven Naismith's Hearts credentials hailed as board mulls over next managerial move
Appointed caretaker until the end of the season following the sacking of Robbie Neilson, Naismith has presided over two wins, three draws and two losses – all bar one against top-six opposition. The 36-year-old ex-Hearts, Rangers, Everton and Scotland forward believes he is ready for frontline management and the Hearts board is expected to convene in the coming days to decide whether to appoint Naismith or look elsewhere. Clark, who made two key saves in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Hibs that ensured fourth place in the Premiership and secured a place in the Europa Conference League qualifiers, revealed that the club’s former B-team manager has brought “positivity back to the changing room”.
“He’s come in and been brilliant for us,” said Clark. “He’s got us back to wanting to play football in their half, making the opposition defences work. It’s not that we weren’t doing that prior. It’s just that us, as players, couldn’t seem to get it going. Naisy coming in has brought a new voice, he’s been positive, he was delighted to be given the opportunity and that brought positivity back into the changing room. We were on a poor run of form, confidence was low. It was just us searching for that form that we knew was within us. We knew there was quality in the squad. He’s helped us bring it out.
“He doesn’t want us to give things up cheaply. He wants us to be aggressive in our first contact and pick up every second ball. We lost a few in the first half but, at half-time, he showed us the clips and told us where we needed to be better. He just demands high standards. At Hearts, you need that week in, week out. He certainly drives that.”
When asked if he wanted Naismith to be given the job on a permanent basis, Clark continued: “Listen, he’s been great since he came in. He’s exactly the same as a manager as he was as a player – he’s not afraid to dig you out and have a pop at you when you deserve it. He also knows how to put an arm around you. It’s outwith my control, what happens there. But for me, I’m just glad we could pick up the result he needed for him in the derby.”
Clark accepted that Hearts had failed in their primary objective of finishing third in the league to replicate last season’s feat but hopes that the club will build on a decent end to the campaign, going four matches unbeaten and pipping rivals Hibs to a top-four finish. “It’s probably disappointing in terms of where we were, to go on the run we went on, for someone else to pick up third place,” Clark remarked on the term as a whole. “But since Naisy came in it’s been about giving ourselves a chance, which we did up until last midweek. We’ve got a European slot so we’ve got to take that as a positive, try to bring those European nights back to Tynie.”
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