Craig Levein was delighted as Hearts battled to a 2-1 victory over Hamilton Accies today at the SuperSeal Stadium in Lanarkshire.
The manager recorded the first win of his second spell in charge of the club thanks to goals from Ross Callachan and Kyle Lafferty, and despite Hamilton pulling a goal back through Rakish Bingham, a strong defensive display kept out the Accies in a fraught second half to earn the win.
Hailing keeper Jon McLaughlin for his calmness under pressure in the second period, Craig explained how he felt the game had gone in his side’s favour during his post-match press conference:
“It was a strange game today,” said Craig. “We had an excellent first thirty minutes, where we were dominant, then the turn around came when we lost a goal due to a mistake, and Hamilton punished us. We had to defend excellently in the second half to win the game.
“It would have been great to extend the lead, but first and foremost we had to make sure Hamilton didn’t score again. Other than a free-kick that Jon McLaughlin had to save superbly, I don’t think we were troubled much in the second half.
“Jon actually picked up a groin injury in the first half, which clearly affected his kicking, and I wasn’t sure he’d see out the 90 minutes, but obviously his mobility was pretty good to save the free kick and he caught 3 or 4 crosses to take a lot of pressure off the defence.”
At points the match threatened to boil over in the second half but the Hearts defence - marshalled by Christophe Berra - kept their cool and never looked in trouble.
“That was a typical, gritty Scottish game, the kind that makes good defenders. I didn’t feel Hamilton would score based on how we defended, so it was great to see our defenders hanging in there and not panicking.
“Hamilton’s midfield is a tough one to fight against, so it was a scrap at times today. It does our confidence the world of good, however, to know that when there’s a fight on the pitch, that we can dig deep and grind out a win like that.”
Craig also found the time to praise the supporters, who gave Ross Callachan an extra loud cheer following the midfielder’s maiden goal for the club, after they travelled in huge numbers - over 2,000 - to back their team following a bumper crowd last week at BT Murrayfield.
“Ross was terrific last week, and almost got the goal he deserved,” he explained, “And then today he goes and scores right in front of a massive Hearts support, who were terrific today as well. The fans understood the nature of the game, saw it was a scrap and stuck with us until the end.”
Finally, Craig hailed the contribution of Jamie Walker, who shook off a number of rough challenges on him today to produce a man-of-the-match performance - shining both in attack and in defence.
“Jamie was brilliant, wasn’t he?”, the manager enthused. “I told him that his performance today was fantastic. He did what Jamie Walker does, a great bit of skill in midfield to set up the first goal, he led the pressing from the front, which he’s not normally associated with.
“He worked his socks off for the team today, and I thought he was outstanding.”