Much has been said about Hearts’ new main stand and the fact that the protracted timescale has forced them to see out more than the first quarter of the season on the road.
But as they edge closer to their return to Tynecastle and a run of home games that will see them through to Christmas time, Michael Smith says that positives can still be gleaned from their nomadic existence. The Northern Ireland full-back insists that the team unity cultivated by away days and overnight stays will stand the club in good stead as they begin to ramp up their bid for a top-three finish.
“We are stronger as a group because we are effectively playing ‘away’ every week,” said the former Peterborough player.
“The mood in the changing room is fantastic and even after the Dundee game, when some words were said, we didn’t dwell on it and we moved on quickly. We beat Ross County and that shows the mentality of the players.
“Some people say we haven’t started well but we have not played a home match and are still going well in the league.”
Sitting in seventh place after nine games, the next three fixtures could be a springboard to shoot up the standings. First up is St Johnstone at Murrayfield today and a win in that one would allow them to leapfrog the Perth club, as well as derby rivals Hibernian, whom they face on Tuesday night, in the first head-to-head of the season. They will then play Rangers, who are currently in third place, but just five points ahead.
The following match could then be back at Gorgie and they want to ensure that they return with as much momentum as possible.
“We are a lot more solid and drilled a lot better now. We work on things a lot in training,” said Smith. “If we become more free-flowing in the final third it will come and somebody will take a hammering one day. It is all about getting the basics right and getting back to Tynecastle. We will play with a lot more freedom then as the fans will get right behind us. We will be a real force.
“But this has been the most difficult start I have had as a player as we haven’t played at home but we have come through it. We have a big three games coming up and we are looking forward to that. St Johnstone are first up and we will deal with that.”
If the team bonds are already strong, the 29-year-old says the newcomers’ affection for the club is also growing, thanks in part to the influence of key individuals. While captain Christophe Berra has experience and knows what is expected of anyone who pulls on the maroon shirt, Ross Callachan and John Souttar reinforce that message, according to Smith.
“Ross has been brilliant since he came in, along with Christophe and John Souttar,” Smith added. “That’s three big characters in the dressing room. Ross is great in the changing room. He is a Hearts fan and wears his heart on his sleeve and it is fantastic to see that passion and it rubs off massively on the rest.
“We are all working together to achieve our goal of finishing in the top three. We are on the right track and we will see where we are placed after these three matches. But that is an achievable target – 100 per cent.”