Jamie Walker is determined to shut out all thoughts of the future as he strives to help Hearts mount a sustained Premiership recovery.
The Rangers transfer target, who is out of contract next summer and free to talk to other clubs come January, was dropped from the Gorgie side earlier this season as speculation mounted over a £1 million move away.
But Walker, who created Hearts’ opener and netted the winner on Saturday, insisted he has now put all distractions out of his mind in an effort to strike full form and help revive Tynecastle fortunes.
There is sure to be great interest in Walker’s services come the New Year, but the 24-year-old insists he has learned to park those thoughts and focus on performances in maroon.
The win away to Ross County marked the end of a protracted spell on the road for Craig Levein’s team, who now prepare for an enticing run of ten games in and around the capital. That should include a planned homecoming at revamped Tynecastle against Kilmarnock on 5 November after facing St Johnstone and Rangers at Murrayfield, either side of an Easter Road visit.
Walker, who is refusing to rule out signing a new Hearts deal, said: “It was hard not being in the squad earlier in the season. As a football player you want to play every week. But it’s part of the game. You’d need to ask the previous manager [Ian Cathro] if it was justified. But I’m back now and enjoyed the goal. The fans have been great. Ever since I was a young boy and played for this club the fans have been fantastic.
“Hopefully, I keep scoring goals and they keep singing my name. I’m not looking too far into the future because, if you do, you get distracted from playing football matches. I’m just taking each game as it comes and we can pick up more points than we drop.
“It’s been quite quiet in terms of talking about a contract here at Hearts, but I’m always open to discussions and we don’t know what might happen in the future.”
Hearts faced a Ross County side who had returned to winning ways in Owen Coyle’s first game in charge at Kilmarnock. In what was Coyle’s home debut, they soaked up the Dingwall side’s early exuberance comfortably before punishing the hosts after 34 minutes. The opener, though, summed up a day of controversy regarding referee Willie Collum’s performance.
It stemmed from a County corner where captain Andrew Davies, making to meet Michael Gardyne’s delivery, looked to be manhandled by Christophe Berra.
From Michael Smith’s clearance, Walker controlled at pace and chose his moment to feed Esmael Goncalves. Six yards out, the striker lashed low into the net with his left foot.
County’s response was immediate. Breaking down the right, Jason Naismith found young Davis Keillor-Dunn in the box and he swept across the outside of the six-yard box before executing a confident finish.
Keillor-Dunn’s talents drew some hefty attention, mainly from marker Connor Randall, who was red-carded in the second half but not before he helped Hearts restore the lead, taking a Lafferty pass and threading in Walker for a smash into the roof of the net.
County went agonisingly close to an equaliser and also saw substitute Thomas Mikkelsen denied a penalty – among several vociferous claims – after another compelling shout.
It was Hearts’ day and Walker added: “We had a little bit of a blip before we came here so it’s a massive three points and, with three big games coming up, we’re delighted.
“The gaffer said in the changing room that there’s been a lot of turnaround in the last five or six months so we’re still trying to find our feet.
“We knew the start of the season was going to be tough with so many away games. Picking up points was the most important thing. This run of home games will be massive.”