CHANTS of “bring on the Hibees” echoed around Tynecastle late on Saturday afternoon and, on this form, Hearts will be difficult to stop in the Edinburgh derby.
Whether they can reproduce the performance which dismantled St Mirren so convincingly remains to be seen towards the end of a season of inconsistency. The key may well be a 19-year-old winger who increasingly looks like a talisman in the making.
Jamie Walker gave David van Zanten a comprehensive roasting on the left flank, to the extent that St Mirren manager Danny Lennon replaced his right-back with seven minutes of the first half remaining. Walker continued to thrive after his stunning opening goal just 14 minutes in and deservedly finished man of the match. Those who have watched him progress this season would agree he is becoming a major player for Hearts.
With each passing week, Walker seems to add something new to his game. On Saturday he had everything. He was creative and direct with the ball, his shooting produced the first goal via the underside of the crossbar, he tracked back, won tackles, won headers and generally stood out above all others.
Not far behind was Kevin McHattie, scorer of the second goal, on a day when two of Riccarton’s academy graduates came of age. Jamie Hamill scored the third from the penalty spot after McHattie was fouled by Kenny McLean, who was ordered off for the offence.
There was also a debut for 16-year-old Jordan McGhee on a day when over 16,000 people attended Tynecastle due to £5 admission prices. It was almost a perfect afternoon at the end of a week when off-the-field matters have again taken precedence at Hearts. The challenge for the players is to carry this forward and repeat it next Sunday when Hibs cross Edinburgh for the derby.
“It was a really pleasing performance,” said Gary Locke, the Hearts manager. “We knew it would be a big crowd and I said to players we needed to be up for it and give them something to shout about. We certainly delivered. It’s difficult to single anyone out because we worked well, passed the ball well and created chances. That’s the standard of play we’re capable of.
“I thought Jamie [Walker] did really well in the first half and he’s been threatening to score a goal like that for a few weeks.”
Walker dispossessed Esmael Goncalves and strode forward to thunder the ball in off the bar from more than 20 yards out. It was just reward for Hearts’ aggressive opening to the game, with St Mirren looking slightly overwhelmed. When McHattie drove a 25-yard free-kick beyond visiting goalkeeper Craig Samson just before the interval, the game looked over for Danny Lennon and his players. The result was secured in the second half when McLean fouled McHattie and Hamill lashed the penalty high beyond Samson.
“Stevo [Ryan Stevenson] missed a penalty a few weeks ago [against Kilmarnock], but fortunately I put one away on Saturday,” smiled Hamill. “As soon as he missed we had a bit of banter. I was trying to get back on the penalties straight away even though he’d scored two before that. He definitely wasn’t getting another chance, put it that way.”
Captain-for-the-day Jamie MacDonald also preserved a clean sheet, although Jason Holt and Darren Barr helped by clearing two St Mirren efforts off the Hearts goal line.
Locke underlined the increasing influence of the younger players within his squad. “I’ve said for months there are a lot of positives at this club,” he said. “We had 11 under-21s stripped for the game and some of them showed what they’re capable of. Being young, they are inconsistent, but if we can perform like that next season we’ll do well. You forget Kevin [McHattie] is so young with the way he’s performing at the moment.”
Lennon’s team stay in the SPL after Dundee’s 1-1 draw with Aberdeen yesterday relegated the Dens Park club. Lennon creditably hailed Hearts for destroying a team which beat them at Hampden Park as recently as March in the League Cup final. “I must compliment Hearts for the way they played,” he said. “Gary had a few young players in there and they did well. There is great talent about this place and that can only benefit Scottish football.
“We’ve got to assess the game and see where we went wrong. The key moments went Hearts’ way. They were better in the first half and scored before half-time. We changed things for the second half, came out with more urgency and created two or three opportunities. Then another key moment goes against us with the penalty.
“For the third week in a row there’s dubiety about the decision. From where I was, it looked a poor decision and I’ll take the players’ word for it that Kenny took the ball.
“We then had to play with ten men and the spirit and fight was superb. That’s the third game in a row where we haven’t come out of the blocks at the start. We need to address that quickly for the remaining games.”