Can Hearts last the pace in the Scottish Premiership?
Heart of Midlothian currently top the Scottish Premiership by five points after securing an impressive five wins and a draw from opening six games. Craig Levein's side have been particularly good in defence, conceding only two goals. Their highlight came in the second week when overcoming defending champions Celtic at Tynecastle, 1-0. The maroon machine has shown little sign of slowing down.
Hearts have been here before, of course. In the 2005/06 season, with heavy financial backing, they won the first eight league matches under George Burley. Unfortunately for the Jambos, their boss fell out with owner Vladimir Romanov. He left after ten games with the unbeaten record still intact.
The Edinburgh-based outfit then went through various managers. John McGlynn was the caretaker before Graeme Rix and Valdas Ivanauskas both had stints in that same campaign. Despite all the off-field issues, the Jam Tarts enjoyed a decent period. They lost out on the title to Celtic yet topped Rangers to become the first team in 11 years to split the Glasgow giants. Not only was finishing second their best effort since 1992, they also lifted the Scottish Cup for the seventh time in history, beating Gretna in the final.
Despite Hearts not having the finances previously available in Romanov's spell, they are on much stabler ground at present. Shortly after suffering relegation to the second-tier in 2014, a consortium led by Scottish businesswoman Ann Budge brought the club out of administration. The Jambos cruised to the title, finishing above both city rivals Hibernian and Rangers to return to the top flight at the first attempt. They have progressed well ever since.
Among Budge's initial moves was bringing Levein back to Tynecastle, first as the Director of Football before taking his current role. While the Scot is Hearts' manager, much of this season's success has to go to his assistant, Austin MacPhee, who stepped in when the gaffer was taken ill, spending two days in an Edinburgh hospital's coronary care unit.
It wouldn't be Heart of Midlothian if there wasn't some kind of drama in the background. For now, though, the team's on-field performance is taking centre stage. Their perfect start was ended last weekend when held to a goalless draw by Livingston, but, in truth, they should have secured all three points, having missed a penalty, hit the woodwork twice and wasted several other good chances. The Jam Tarts' performance was fine. As long as that result doesn't get to them, there's no reason they can't continue marching on.
Six games in, it's too early to evaluate Hearts' prospects. They have some very good players, including Steven Naismith who already has five goals this campaign. However, Celtic aside, their victories were against weaker opposition. Much bigger tests will arrive in October when they are scheduled to play Rangers, Aberdeen and Hibs.
As things stand, Levein's men are the most formidable in Scotland. They deserve their place at the summit. The longer that position is held, the more talk of ending a 58-year wait for the top-flight title. Such will no doubt bring an added pressure, but one which every single person associated with Hearts fully welcomes.