Gary Mackay: We've become a relentless force against all but top two
As a Hearts player, your bread and butter isn't games against the Old Firm, it's the games against every other side in the Premier League. And this season Hearts have dealt with those teams in a far more consistent manner than any other side in the division.
I made it clear last week that I was disappointed at how we played against Rangers at Ibrox, but, having said that, there's no escaping the fact that, by hook or by crook, the Old Firm - 99 per cent of the time - grind out victories in the games that matter most.
While Hearts have fallen short in their trips to Glasgow this season, we have been something of a relentless force against non-Old Firm opposition, and that is what has put us in such a strong position in our bid to tie up third place as quickly as possible. We have two games against Dundee United and one against Kilmarnock before the split and I would like to think that any half-decent return of points would leave us all but assured of third spot with a good bit to spare.
We're in a funny position just now because we're so far ahead of the rest, but still a wee bit behind the Old Firm. It's a really nice position to be in, though. It's a bit like a racehorse coming out of the pack to chase the front two and all we can do is try and keep on their tails because you never know what might happen. Celtic are playing with loads of momentum at the moment, but they've still got to play Rangers four times, so there will still be twists and turns to come.
As I've touched on before, Rangers have a really tough schedule ahead, particularly if they progress in Europe, so we've just got to hang in there and take advantage when the top two slip up, which they will inevitably do at some point.
Results like Saturday's at Hamilton might not seem too important at the time, but they are the type of matches that help get you into a challenging position come the end of the season. We've won every single away game against non-Old Firm opposition which is absolutely phenomenal. If we were to continue that for the rest of the season, it would be very interesting to see where we would finish up.
Results, confidence and respect for the management are all factors that breed success, but there's no doubt that Hearts' improved discipline - not having players sent off and then losing them to suspension - has been hugely important in the team's good run of form. Last season we went to Hamilton and had quite a fraught afternoon where all the talk was about our indiscipline. This time we've gone there and done a professional job and all the talk is about how good the players are doing and the fact they have maintained their amazing away record against non-Old Firm opposition. The form we've shown on the road is something the players should be immensely proud of.
It was Stephen Elliott's goals against Hamilton that helped maintain our fine away form and I was really pleased for him as his work ethic is always there for all to see. Against the likes of the Old Firm, he looks like someone who maybe needs the help of Kevin Kyle, but against the Hamiltons of this world, he's a man who should be doing the business no matter who he's playing beside, and he did that emphatically on Saturday. As a reasonably experienced internationalist, he is going to have to be the one that takes on the extra responsibility in attack until Kyle is fit enough to return.
Given his pedigree, it was no surprise to see Andy Webster go straight into the team and it will have done him - as well as the rest of the team - the world of good to help secure a clean sheet. He seemed to get a good reception from the fans which I was happy about. Football is a team game where everyone needs to pull together and that includes the supporters playing their part to help the team. A decision was taken to bring Andy back and we should all back the decision because Andy Webster is the type of player who will make us stronger in the long run.
We all saw how he helped bring on Garry Kenneth at Dundee United last season and I'm sure he will help the development of younger lads like Lee Wallace and Craig Thomson. If you're serious about bringing young players through, you need good people to coach them and you also need good experienced professionals on the pitch to help when they make it into the team - and Andy is undoubtedly one of those players.