When Steven Naismith hobbled off against Celtic back in October, it wasn’t just the on-loan striker who would take time to recover. Without him, the Glasgow side completely humbled Hearts that day and for the following two months, in the eight games he missed, the Gorgie team won only once.
When the Scotland striker left the field against the Parkhead side a couple of weeks ago, fears of a repeat were understandable but, in his absence, Hearts went toe to toe with the league leaders and were unfortunate not to take something from the match. In the three subsequent games, they have drawn one, won two and, while the level of performance has been shy of their best, the fact they ground out results in the last two games indicates they have learned from adversity and now possess greater steel, according to Sean Clare, who netted the winner in both fixtures.
“Everyone loves scoring, especially attacking players, and the manager and all the coaching staff are happy and it is nice that I can pay them back and hopefully I can keep doing that,” said the youngster who has taken his goal tally to four for the season and is looking for more against Hamilton at New Douglas Park today.
“The last few games we have shown we have a bit more resilience and that is really important if we want to progress in the league and cup.
“Obviously, losing a big player like Naisy is difficult for any team and we have also lost some other big players. Now we have a few of them back and, although we have lost Naisy, we have definitely grown as a team and we are stronger as a team in terms of blocking teams out and sticking together when things are tough.”
An exuberant force against Celtic, they have struggled against the so-called lesser teams. It hasn’t always been pretty but when they look back on a season that has delivered two cup semi-finals and could yet serve up a European place, Clare says that league points and cup progress are what matters.
“That is what footballers are here for, to play in big games, to win trophies and win leagues. The semi-final will be a massive game but we have a few games in between that we have to focus on first before we start preparing for that and the most important just now is Hamilton.”