THE 15-point deficit with which Hearts begin the SPFL Premiership season has been viewed as a gauntlet thrown down inside the Tynecastle dressing room.
Liverpool Xl 1-0 Hearts
Scorer: Liverpool Xl - Peterson (61)
Jamie Hamill, for one, is happy to take up the challenge, and the former Kilmarnock player reports that manager Gary Locke’s youthful squad are united as one in their determination to show they are capable of overcoming that handicap.
The Edinburgh club, who kick off the campaign at St Johnstone on Sunday, are underdogs in the eyes of most observers to survive in the top flight, but Hamill is relishing the task of proving those doubters wrong.
Having completed their pre-season schedule with a 1-0 defeat by a Liverpool Xl comprising mostly of under-21 players at The Oval in Belfast on Saturday, Hamill – who celebrates his 27th birthday today – believes the Hearts squad is ready for the battle ahead.
“The pre-season games have been good to bed in people,” he said. “We’ve got younger players and if you look towards the bench you’ve got young kids there as well, so it’s vitally important that they come away on these trips and kind of break the ice with the older boys and get them involved and doing lots of different things.
“It’s important to mix with the younger kids and give them that bit of experience. Talking about quality on the park, everybody is here because they’re really good players. We need to take that into the season with the opening game against St Johnstone. It’ll be a very tough game and we’re really looking forward to it.
“We’re happy enough to be underdogs. Hopefully, come the end of the season, we can put that right and make sure that people will be talking about the boys doing themselves justice.
“This season is one that I’m looking forward to. If you ask anybody in the dressing room, it’s one we’re all looking forward to and we see each game as a cup final. If we can stay up then I’m quite confident that it’ll be the biggest achievement in the club’s history.
“It’s going to be a long season but hopefully the young boys can continue to progress the way they have been. I don’t think we’ll be far away.
“If you look at the depth of the squad then I think you’re going to have to get people chipping in with goals. I’ve got a wee bet on with (Ryan) Stevenson and I’m still one ahead of him in pre-season, so long may it continue!”
Manager Locke’s main concern following the Belfast tournament, in which Hearts had beaten Crusaders 2-0 two days earlier, was the fitness of Callum Tapping, who was carried off following a second-half collision with Liverpool’s Jordan Lussey.
The 20-year-old had been one of his side’s better performers as Hearts began brightly and almost led when a Stevenson shot was deflected wide of goal.
They were fortunate when Trickett Smith appeared to score with a header, but linesman ruled it had not crossed the line. The Merseysiders grabbed the winner, however, when Kristoffer Peterson turned sharply inside the box and rifled a shot past Jamie MacDonald.