Hearts grow in confidence as four big players return to squad to strengthen bid for third place

The Jambos boss isn’t concerned by league position right now but beating Kilmarnock would move them into promising place

Three league wins in a row can do a lot to a football team. Just ask Hearts. The Jambos are in a good place ahead of Saturday’s trip to Kilmarnock, where another victory would move them – for 24 hours at least – to third in the Premiership.

Not so long ago, there was talk of a crisis at Tynecastle. Yet in an ultra-competitive division, stringing together even a small run of positive results can bring big benefits. Manager Steven Naismith is experiencing that himself, personally and collectively. Fan unrest has subsided and the coach is seeing an increasingly confident squad of players in training.

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"You can see everybody at training being at it,” explained Naismith. “That comes from confidence, enjoying it, everything is good. I think a lot over the last month of what we've worked on with us changing to a back three at times, having to put the detail on the pitch of what happens in certain situations, the players have seen that pay off. They have seen in a game when we review that we worked on this on Monday and on the Saturday clear as day it consistently happened and it got us success. That gets you buy-in. Players see that, they understand that and go 'aye, that worked'. That brings confidence. The environment, the results, everything does. It is about continuing that on as long as possible.

Steven Naismith's Hearts team will move up to third in the Premiership if they defeat Kilmarnock on Saturday.Steven Naismith's Hearts team will move up to third in the Premiership if they defeat Kilmarnock on Saturday.
Steven Naismith's Hearts team will move up to third in the Premiership if they defeat Kilmarnock on Saturday.

“Individually they will have confidence in themselves when they play well, whether it be in possession building up, scoring goals, creating chances. Players are the worst for questioning things and players have opinions of how they expect to do things. When you are different to somebody the proof is when it happens and if it happens then that is when the mindset changes. I was exactly the same as a player and over the last month we have managed to do that quite well.”

Going third – Hearts’ aim this season in the league – would be a milestone moment but Naismith was keen to play down the significance. “I have constantly talked about the consistency,” he said. “In terms of where we are in the league, I'm not bothered about that. I know how it works. The league is normally tight until January/February time anyway. I'll not start focusing on that until March/April time because you know things have settled down, the gaps between teams are slightly bigger than expected and you can get a real feel of where you are going to be.”

Hearts go into a busy month boosted by the return of four key players to the squad – goalkeeper Craig Gordon, defenders Craig Halkett and Nathaniel Atkinson plus playmaker Barrie Mckay. The trip to Rugby Park comes too soon for the long-term injured quartet but Naismith hinted at involvement sooner rather than later. “Over the coming weeks there will be changes to the squad. Now these guys come into the thought process of, 'what's the starting line-up going to be, how do we see the game going and who might I need on the bench'. I think now, with a full squad, there's players with different attributes who might be needed on the bench, to whether they will be in squad altogether. That'll come, that'll happen in the next month. It's helped the group in training. Everybody is now understanding 'I need to be on it otherwise I might not just start, I might not make the squad'. As a manager, that's what you want.”