It might be curious to describe their 3-1 defeat at Celtic Park as a good day for Hearts. Especially since the Tynecastle men had drawn twice previously with the Scottish champions. Yet, the fact that Robbie Neilson’s side went toe-to-toe with their hosts and demonstrated a power and accomplishment that had Celtic initially gasping meant the Gorgie side could temper their grumbles at the outcome.
Chief among these was the failure of Bobby Madden to penalise Scott Brown for a lunge that Juanma jumped clear of in the opening minutes. That, and the Hearts striker contriving to miss an open goal at 1-1 were the incidents that undid great work from Neilson’s men. On that front, no-one contributed more than Jamie Walker, who struck with an exocet of a shot in the opening minutes and caused all sorts of problems in finding pockets of space operating behind Juanma.
“We can take a lot of confidence from the way we played,” the 22-year-old said. “It’s disappointing to come here, play well and not take anything but we have a big game on Tuesday [in Inverness] and we can take a lot of encouragement from this display.
“In scoring early, it meant we still had to defend for another 85 minutes but we also had a great chance through Juanma at 1-1 to put us ahead. At Celtic Park, you need to take chances like that. They went up the park and scored straight away. Did 3-1 flatter them? Probably not, they are a good team and they created a few chances. But so did we and we were disappointed to lose, given the way we played.”
Walker had no comment on the red card for Juwon Oshaniwa at the close, following a second caution for a tackle on Nir Bitton he “didn’t see”, but he saw enough of Brown’s tone-setter to feel his team were not well served by Madden.
“There was a bad tackle,” Walker added. “Should action have been taken? It was a two-footed tackle and it’s at least a yellow card. Brown went on to get booked so that could have changed the game. But the referee never deemed it that way so we have to get on with it.”
Walker, who would likely have had a senior Scotland call last month but for injury, is among the young-ish wave of Scottish footballers that offer some hope for the game’s future. His development is continuing apace and is underpinned by the fact he can now boast 24 goals from 124 appearances for Hearts.
“It’s beyond my expectations at this stage,” he said. “As a young kid, you dream of making your debut for the club you have always supported. I am delighted, I just want to keep going, keep scoring and do my best.”