AS EMOTIONAL as it was, as the massive home crowd paid tribute and remembered one of their own, it was also a day of clinical businesslike endeavour.
The memories of Dave Mackay, whose words are etched on the home dressing-room wall, reminding all those who have followed in his footsteps what it meant to him to pull on the maroon jersey of his boyhood heroes, are as much of an inspiration to the current crop of players as he was to the players he captained in his heyday.
In the first home game since his passing, with a minute’s silence perfectly observed and sentiment saturating the Tynecastle atmosphere, it meant that the pressure was on Robbie Neilson’s men to deliver.
But the weight of expectation is nothing new to players who have flourished rather than floundered in such circumstances, making a mockery of those who thought their title challenge would falter as the enormity of it sunk home.
Back after an idle weekend, they failed to tap into the fluid, flamboyant football that reaped that startling 10-0 scoreline the last time they took to the Tynecastle turf, but they still managed to do the occasion justice, grinding out what transpired to be a comfortable win and edging themselves ever closer to the magical points tally that will see them declared Championship champions. As it stands they only need to win their next three matches to seal the deal and the fact that they could do that before March is done is a measure of their mastery this term. Next up is Raith Rovers on Tuesday night, followed by an away trip to Falkirk – the only team to have blighted an otherwise unbeaten league run – before they play host to Queen of the South on 28 March.
The manner in which they have strode steadfastly towards that title will have delighted Dave Mackay, the only sadness is that he won’t be around to relish it. His spirit will savour it, though.
A driven competitor and born winner, on this day as everyone paused to remember his contribution to Hearts’ history, it was almost fitting that the home side had to dig deep into their reserves of patience and resolve to earn all three points. Though scoring four goals without reply, the football was almost secondary on a day when a legend and the victory the players dedicated to him took centre stage.
Osman Sow’s opening goal came in the 53rd minute, which also happened to be the same year Mackay made his first-team debut for the club, and was the epitome of doggedness as the maroon shorts laid siege to Danny Rogers’ six-yard box and almost bullied the ball over the line. The Dumbarton goalkeeper had been in excellent form, denying Sow with a wonderful save in the 28th minute, and he was adamant he had been impeded as he tried to collect the ball but, with a combination of sheer strength of character and a collective will rather than any particular finesse, Hearts found the breakthrough they needed.
The second goal was a header by the current captain Danny Wilson – a successor to Mackay – who rose virtually unchallenged to bullet his effort into the net. That came in the 68th minute and sealed the win, the two late goals by Billy King to wrap up the scoring, simply the icing on the cake.
Like Mackay, King grew up supporting the capital club, dreaming of wearing the maroon and when he joined the fray he was desperate to make an impact. With two goals, one in the 86th minute and another in the 89th, he did just that. It wasn’t enough to outshine the legend, not on a day when his legacy was so evident, but if Mackay had any kind of vantage point he would have been looking down with a smile on his face.