The Wight Licht

by Oct 28, 2020

When I sat down to type up my thoughts on Friday’s win over Arbroath, I contemplated watching it back again, before regaining my senses and remembering that free time as a parent is too valuable to fritter away on repeat viewings of such a turgid display.

Deep down though, I think most of us knew it was going to be that kind of game. Anyone who didn’t, anyone who was perhaps still enjoying the high from the previous week’s 6-2 demolition of Dundee, anyone who thought this season was going to be a formality, has surely been dealt a dose of reality since.

We’re two games into the Championship campaign, two wins more to the point, but two very different types of win that have each taught us something about this group of players.

Regardless of our status as overwhelming favourites, if we are going to win this title it will be down to a combination of both. Memories of 6-2 wins may reverberate around the pubs of Gorgie for longer, but the more forgettable, less fashionable – even downright ugly – single-goal victories like the one we saw on Friday night will carry just as much significance come the end of the season.

They are the foundations on which title wins are built. The high-scoring annihilations are the fancy furnishings: nice to have, easy on the eye, but ultimately of little importance if the basic structure collapses in a storm. It was fitting, therefore, that the first test of this team’s structural integrity came at a ground so exposed to the elements.

It can sometimes come across as patronising when supporters of a bigger team praise their defeated part-time opponents, with words like “plucky” and “brave” often used to describe their performance. However, anyone who saw Dick Campbell’s interviews with the BBC will know that such praise carries as much weight as a fart in the North Sea wind.

Campbell asserted before the game that his players would be fighting for every point available in order to stay in the division and that determination permeated their performance, belying any pre-match expectation that Arbroath would simply sit in and weather the storm.

In the end, the force of Hearts’ attack was more akin to a light autumnal breeze. The narrow pitch at Gayfield was always going to make it a testing evening for the wide men, but the early loss of Josh Ginnelly made the task even more challenging, particularly when it led to Jamie Walker being shifted out wide from his more natural number 10 role.

With two of our most direct and penetrative creative threats either sidelined or – in Walker’s case – neutralised, any hopes Hearts had of a quick start gradually dissipated as the first half wore on with scoring opportunities at a premium.

By contrast, Abroath went into the half-time break unlucky not to be ahead courtesy of Kris Doolan, whose low snapshot produced yet another fine save from Craig Gordon. In his first spell at the club, Gordon produced match-winning saves with the kind of automation mere mortals like you or I reserve for entering our PINs at a cashline and, having already produced a few save of the season contenders this month, it is abundantly clear he has lost none of that muscle memory in the winter of his career.

Given how close the game ended up being, the magnitude of that first-half save was not lost on anyone and it’s moments like that where you take stock and realise just how fortunate we are to have him back.

While Arbroath’s efforts will have been a source of pride and encouragement for Campbell, the fact they came away with nothing to show for those will be equally frustrating. That they were ultimately undone by a player Campbell had a hand in rejuvenating last season – and whom the Red Lichties boss reportedly wanted back on loan for this campaign – will have only rubbed salt into the wound.

Speaking after the game, Craig Wighton acknowledged Campbell’s role in helping him fall back in love with football after an 18-month period plagued by injury and starved of form, which culminated in a loan spell that, at the time, appeared to signal the end of his Hearts career.

“Dick gave me a chance to come here and play a few games and start getting my confidence back. Obviously I’m really grateful for that. It had been a tough 18 months. I hadn’t played a lot of football and just to get back playing regularly, and the fact they were flying at the time, made it enjoyable. You’re scoring goals and winning games.”

Without that loan spell at Gayfield in the second half of last season, it is quite possible we wouldn’t be seeing Wighton in a Hearts jersey at all right now, let alone this new and improved version. To illustrate the point further, without that loan spell, there is no scenario in which the old Wighton – having already spurned an earlier chance to score – would have had the confidence, composure or audacity to casually loft his next chance over the onrushing keeper for what proved to be a sublime winning goal.

Just as Wighton’s confidence continues on an upward trajectory, so too will that of his teammates after passing such a stern test of their collective character. Against Dundee, we saw the kind of devastation this group of players can cause when firing on all cylinders. However, perhaps more tellingly, what we saw on Friday was a team that, despite not getting everything their own way, had the resilience to come out on top.

It may not have been a scintillating six-goal showpiece, but as I said in my preview piece for this game last week, the aesthetic quality pales in comparison to the value of three points and the infectious self-belief that comes with remaining unbeaten. A timely psychological boost, some might say, ahead of a Scottish Cup semi-final against our city rivals, in which these players will be underdogs for the first time this season.