Hearts’ defensive plug boosts Liam Smith’s hopes in Euro bid

nLiam Smith has been encouraged by Hearts' two successive clean sheets. Picture: SNS.
nLiam Smith has been encouraged by Hearts' two successive clean sheets. Picture: SNS.
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Liam Smith hopes Hearts can get back on the front foot in the chase for a European slot after finally sorting out their problems in defence.

The Jambos let their grasp on a Europa League slot slip as they picked up just one win during a torrid seven-game run in which they conceded an average of two goals per game and dropped to fifth in the Premiership table.

But the recent 1-0 home win over Dundee and goalless draw at Kilmarnock have suggested manager Ian Cathro has found a way to solidify his team’s rearguard.

Now full-back Smith, right, reckons those morale-boosting results will give the Hearts flair players the confidence they need to start troubling teams at the other end.

Smith, whose side must rein in St Johnstone’s four-point lead if they are to snatch back a Euro ticket, said: “When you’re controlling games but not getting results, your confidence does take a dunt as you start thinking, ‘What do we have to do to win games?’

“So the two clean sheets are a positive. We’ve been losing games but if you don’t concede goals you can’t get beat.

“When your confidence is low and you’re not picking up the results you want, you need to go back to basics and a clean sheet does that for the defenders.

“Then you can allow your attacking players to go win the game.

“If you can get your confidence back by not conceding, then it allows your more influential players to have the confidence that the boys behind them are going to keep a clean sheet.

“With five games left we can’t look behind us now, we have to look forward and that starts on Saturday. If we can get a bit of momentum going that will be a big help to us achieving our aim of getting back into Europe.”

Partick Thistle defender Christie Elliott is delighted to have secured a new contract at the club. Newcastle-born Elliott first joined Thistle in 2011 as a striker, but this season he has re-invented himself as a marauding wing-back following manager Alan Archibald’s switch to three at the back.

The move has worked in his favour and after registering 29 appearances in red and yellow so far this term – his best ever Jags figures – has now been rewarded with a fresh two-year deal.

“It’s brilliant to get the new contract signed,” said the 25-year-old. “I think this has been my best season since I came to the club and I’d always said this was a club I wanted to stay at.

“The club has developed every year I’ve been here so hopefully I’ll be in the manager’s plans for the next couple of years to come.

“I’ve changed position this season. When I first came up I got my opportunity as a striker. But I wasn’t ever really a striker. Before that I’d always played out wide. When Archie took over we spoke about me more playing on the wing again and now as his formation has changed I’ve been shifted to wing-back.

“It’s good to be versatile but I actually think I really suit this position as I find it really comfortable.”