Hearts have made near faultless progression this season to set themselves apart from all others and sit firmly top of the Premiership pile. The contrast with the unfavourable perception of the SPFL could not be more marked following their decision to stage the Betfred Cup semi-finals at Hampden on the same day.
Steven Naismith believes all is there to be won for his Tynecastle team following Saturday’s 2-1 victory over St Johnstone that allowed them to retain a five-point league lead ahead of travelling to Ibrox next weekend before facing games against Aberdeen, Hibernian and Celtic.
Headed goals by Peter Haring and Jimmy Dunne put Hearts in the driving seat before former Tynecastle midfielder Ross Callachan’s strike set up a rather nervy finish.
Naismith, right, is also convinced all is not lost for the SPFL over the Betfred Cup semi-finals, calling on the governing body to acknowledge it has got it wrong over the scheduling and be prepared to put that right.
Opprobrium has been heaped on the SPFL over the decision to stage both last-four encounters at Hampden on 28 October. The unprecedented double header has necessitated a 12pm kick-off for Aberdeen’s meeting with Rangers and a 7.45pm start for Hearts’ tie against Celtic.
Naismith is in agreement with his club’s owner, Ann Budge, that having supporters from the four clubs in Glasgow could be a “disaster waiting to happen” and he doesn’t believe any such risks over public order require to be taken.
Be that as it may, far too little recognition seems to have been given to the fact that the SPFL has been boxed in by the fixture list, Europa League commitments on the previous Thursday for Celtic and Rangers, and contractual obligations called in by Hampden Park Ltd that have made moving the games from the Mount Florida ground impossible.
Equally, the frothing about fans being inconvenienced by the kick-off times seems to overlook the fact it is only in recent seasons the semi-finals haven’t been played midweek in the bleak mid-winter.
Naismith nevertheless refuses to see the current arrangements for the semi-finals as done deals.
“On the football side of things, it could be a good idea that the semi-finals are on the one day and it can be a big spectacle. But for fans it is not going to be ideal. I think there have been mistakes made by the governing bodies but hopefully they learn and come to the best solution for everybody.
“There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – as long as they come to the right outcome. That’s fair enough but you have to be big enough to admit you made a mistake, change it and move on. Hopefully common sense prevails.
“We are still a month away from the semi-finals. I don’t think anyone should be bad-mouthed for making a bad decision – if it gets changed. I’m sure there are a few solutions out there and I hope they talk about it and sort it out. If that happens then nobody will be unhappy.”
Unhappiness is a concept that would not be recognised around Gorgie at present, with Craig Levein’s side the only Scottish side unbeaten domestically.
Steven Gerrard, who watched Saturday’s game, before Levein took in Livingston downing Rangers yesterday, should consider Hearts to be the real deal, Naismith believes, with the Tynecastle side looking to establish an 11-point gap over their mid-table hosts on Sunday afternoon.
“We definitely have more steeliness about us than we did last season,” said Naismith of a Hearts squad benefiting hugely from a sweeping summer overhaul.