Gary Mackay: Time for Hearts to cut their cloth

A JANUARY schedule that already promised to be hectic has now become even more arduous after the postponement of yesterday's Scottish Cup tie - and as a result the entire squad is going to be tested to the limit over the next month or so.

The management and players have coped brilliantly with everything that's been thrown at them of late, but this is going to be a real challenge for everyone at the club. Jim Jefferies and co are once again going to have to demonstrate their considerable managerial skills in order to get the right balance to see the team through this testing period where we have a whole host of really tough matches and games taking place every midweek.

The players have to be really focused and I don't just mean on a match day. A lot of players like to go out for a few drinks on a Saturday night after a game and there's nothing wrong with that when the games are just at the weekend. But with so many midweek games coming up, I would urge the players to put boozing on the back-burner for the next month or so. As we all know alcohol can stay in your system for a wee while so if we have games on a Saturday and then a Tuesday, drinking certainly isn't going to aid their recovery process between games. The players really have to show some discipline as individuals so that the management have the maximum amount of options available to them during this massive period for the club.

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While it is obviously going to be a tough period for Hearts, all the other teams are in the same boat with lots of midweek games coming up. Rangers have a particularly tough time of it as their squad is probably smaller than ours. They might even lose some key men and they have a few more games postponed than Hearts, while they're also still in the League Cup and the Europa League. I'm sure most clubs will also have to deal with injuries and suspensions as well. A lot will depend on whether any sides are able to strengthen during the transfer window.

So far only Celtic have really brought anyone in, so I'm wondering if Hearts are planning to make any additions. It would be great if the owner allowed the management to strengthen the squad, although it may be that they feel they don't need to add any new faces as there is quite a good depth to the squad at the moment. The one position where we maybe need back-up is the central striker position, just in case we have to do without Kevin Kyle at any point.

The obvious positive as we enter this tough run of games is that Lee Wallace is fit again, while we can only hope that Suso and Andy Driver are not far away from a return. I'd be particularly reluctant to rush Driver back, however, considering the setbacks he's had over the past few years. He really needs to be 100 per cent fit before he comes back into the side. The priority for tomorrow's game against St Johnstone has to be to get the tie put to bed at the first attempt because the last thing we need at the moment is a replay. I don't agree with Saints over their desire to keep tickets at full price and morally Hearts are doing the right thing in closing the Wheatfield Stand, but I hope this stance doesn't backfire on us. Having been part of the team when Tynecastle was being redeveloped in the Nineties, I recall the stadium being very eerie when that side of the ground, where the old shed used to be, had no fans in it. The one thing about being a Hearts player running out at Tynecastle is the roar of anticipation you get from that side of the ground as soon as they see you starting to come up the tunnel. Although I totally back the club's stance on the ticket issue, I just worry that the fact noise levels will be significantly reduced may work against Hearts in the match.

In saying that, tomorrow's game certainly isn't our most important one of the week in my book.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love a good cup run and I hope we get through. But considering where they are in the league, and the opportunity the team have given themselves, Saturday's trip to Tannadice has definitely got more importance attached to it than tomorrow's game. The Dundee United game is absolutely massive for Hearts. It will obviously be a hard game, but United are not flying at the moment and certainly don't seem to be as formidable as they were last season.

Given the effect a victory up there could have, I would certainly be prioritising that match to an extent. We will find out if the management are of a similar mindset when we see what sort of team they put out against Saints tomorrow.