wINNING the title, it was all about taking it day by day, one game at a time. But now that the hard work and blinkered attitude have paid off for Hearts, it is all about the bigger picture.
The defeat at Rangers on Sunday was not what anyone in maroon had wanted, but having suffered only their second league defeat in a Championship season that has been commanding, they are determined to get back to winning ways against Alloa tonight to ensure the lasting memory is a positive one.
“I think even if you are champions people still remember the last games,” said February signing Kenny Anderson. “So if you do badly in the last couple of games of the season people will remember that going into next season. That is why I think it’s important to finish strongly. There are still big games to come. You always say you need to move on to the next game and if the next big game is close you get your focus back on it quickly. I think that’s a good thing. In the last five games we have Hibs and Rangers again so I think that will keep the team sharp.”
“We have been terrific all season and we need to stay positive – we have a big game tonight, then the derby on Sunday, so we can’t have any negativity about the place,” agreed manager Robbie Neilson, who said he will tinker with things slightly in the final few games. “We’ll try different things and different players in other positions, but we still want to win games, that is the most important thing for us.
“We might alter some things, but I will still be picking a team that I think will win every game.
“There have been guys this season that have been doing double, triple sessions, and not getting a lot of game time. They need to be rewarded as well.”
I know Miguel [Pallardo] is happy and enjoying things here and I think he wants a crack at the top flight with us.Robbie Neilson
That could play into the hands of 23-year-old Anderson who has had to be patient since his arrival in February. Despite scoring on his debut, the Dutchman’s appearances have been restricted but with another year on his contract he hopes to play a more integral role next term.
“I think we’re all pushing to show ourselves for the next game. Of course I want to show myself for next season but pre-season will be a good chance to do that,” he added.
“It’s difficult to stay patient but if everyone is clear to you about what they expect from you then you can understand it. You always want to play but I knew when I came here in February that it would be difficult.
“I hope to do well the last few games of this season. But I think, for me, pre-season is going to be huge, I need to be fit to show myself then with next season in mind. I have to look at the bigger picture.”
With some players definitely leaving in the summer and others already tied up, Neilson is keen to lock others into longer deals. Miguel Pallardo’s agent is heading to Scotland next week and the Gorgie club are hopeful of retaining the experienced Spanish midfielder as they head back to the Premiership.
“I am hopeful that we can get something done, but until it is signed you never know in football,” admitted Neilson. “I know Miguel is happy and enjoying things here and I think he wants a crack at the top flight with us, but you can’t count your chickens in football because bigger teams could come in with an offer and he will be away. That’s part and parcel of being at a football club, people come and people go.
“He is a defensive midfielder and does a great job in there, but it is also about his character – he is a fantastic guy to have at the club. He is humble, works hard and does all the right things. If we can get that tied up it will be fantastic. He will have no problem stepping up to the Scottish Premiership. Miguel is a player who has done well in La Liga.”
Holding on to top players could be the tough task as others such as Jamie Walker continue to attract interest from other clubs. Anderson believes that all efforts should be made to hold on to the quality already in the squad, while his manager believes they will have to bolster it even further.
“Jamie is technically one of the better players I have played with. It would be good to keep him here on the team.
“He’s been important with some good passes and goals,” said Anderson, who is hopeful of involvement at Tynecastle tonight.
Neilson does not want to rest on his laurels, though, as they prepare to swap games against the likes of tonight’s opponents Alloa for the more testing conundrums posed by Celtic, Aberdeen & co. “We will need to lift it and put a lot of work in over the summer,” he said. “We have had a good season in the Championship but, at the end of the day, it’s just the Championship. We need to step up a level to play bigger teams, better teams and teams with bigger budgets than ourselves. We need to make sure we prepare properly.”