First team

Naismith: A beneficial break

15 September 2023

Steven Naismith believes Hearts can reap the rewards of the international break when Aberdeen come to town on Saturday.


The Jambos have spent the last two weeks working hard on the training pitch ahead of this weekend's cinch Premiership restart.


The head coach has been pleased with what he's seen and thinks his side can put it into practice when the Dons visit Tynecastle Park this weekend.


Speaking at his pre-match press conference, Steven said: “The break probably came at a good time for us. Our performance levels at times this season have been really good. We have looked a threat, but then when you throw in the number of games that we have had in a short space of time, I don’t think we have dealt well with that.


“We have given up cheap goals from that and that then puts you in a difficult position, but then we just haven’t shown that bit of magic in those times when you need to dig really deep.


“For me, that has been the biggest thing, but in the last two weeks we have been able to do some really good work on that. Making sure that we play with a freedom, and we don’t think twice about playing certain passes.


“Every game we play at Tynecastle, there is an expectation on us to win the match. Us, as a squad of players earlier on in the season, have had to deal with the European games and then being fatigued going into a game at the weekend.


“The expectation doesn’t change. Our fatigue levels and the state of play regarding injuries and travel changes, but the expectation doesn’t. We have to find a way to win games, and these are the things as a group that we are learning.”


The stats will highlight that these fixtures tend to be dominated by the home side and whilst acknowledging the challenges that Aberdeen will inevitably pose Hearts, Steven explained that the Jambos’ preparation has mainly centred around the impact they can have on the game, rather than their opponents.


“I think the break will have helped both teams considering what the schedule was like before," he said. “Aberdeen have been very consistent since Barry took over. They have made a number of signings, so in term of their team selection, that may vary slightly, but it will be a tough game. It is two teams that in recent years have been challenging and have similar objectives at the start of the season.


“But our preparation needs to be on us. Most games we go into, our preparation is on what we can do to cause our opponents problems and that is something we have probably lacked in recent league games.”


It was a mixed bag for Hearts in terms of injuries. Alex Cochrane has picked up an ankle injury and Barrie McKay remains sidelined, however there was positive news surrounding Odel Offiah, Beni Baningime and Calem Nieuwenhof.


“There are a few injuries that have happened," said Steven. "It’s tough. Especially when you look at your squad at the start of the season and see you have players in these positions, but that’s the nature of it. It happens every week.


“It’s something we will have to deal with. I fully believe we still have a good enough squad to select from and one in which everyone can contribute to.


“Odell will hopefully be joining back up with us next week and he will be fine to come back into training. Alex Cochrane took a knock on his ankle in training while attempting to block a shot, so he is likely to be looking at six weeks or maybe longer and Barrie McKay still has a bit of time out.


“Beni and Calem are two that have come back into the group. They were close to playing against Motherwell, but it just came too quickly, so they have now trained for a couple of weeks, so that’s a positive and Craig Gordon has been out training on the pitch quite a lot too.”