BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Kenny Anderson is confident Hearts can hit the ground running and set the pace just like they did last year, despite suffering a bumpy pre-season ride so far.
The Tynecastle side were defeated 1-0 by newly-promoted English Championship side Preston North End at the weekend, their fourth straight friendly without a victory following defeats to Dumbarton and Stirling Albion, and a draw with Cowdenbeath.
A knee knock picked up by striker Soufian El Hassnaoui at Deepdale is also a concern, whilst injuries have curtailed the involvement of new striker Juanma as well as Alim Ozturk, Morgaro Gomis and Prince Buaben during pre-season.
But, with the Premiership opener against St Johnstone on August 2 less than a fortnight away now and the League Cup tie with Arbroath even sooner, Anderson is positive the Jambos will be up to speed and capable of building up an early head of steam.
An opening day victory over Rangers at Ibrox set the tone for last term’s title triumph and, with Dundee, Motherwell, Ross County, Partick Thistle and Hamilton Accies to face in August before a more testing September, Anderson is optimistic.
He said: “Pre-season has been quite hard, actually. There are a lot of games, more games than I’m used to, but it’s good to get the fitness work in.
“We’ve been to Ireland and England, so we’ve been on the road as well. That’s good for team bonding. Although a lot of players from last year are still here, there are also some new players as well.
“The results maybe haven’t been what we expected but it’s still preseason and it’s about getting the fitness in. The most important thing is to be ready come August 2.
“We’ve had some injuries in preseason but that can always happen when you get back into full training. Most of the players will be fit for August 2 – I think we are ready.
“A good start is always very important and we have a chance to pick up points at the start of the season.”
Anderson, who was born in the Netherlands but has a Scottish father, joined from Dutch side RKC Waalwijk midway through last term on an 18-month deal and believes he is benefiting from being with Hearts for pre-season this year.
And, with his contract due to expire next summer, the 23-year-old has acknowledged he is facing an important campaign as he relishes the prospect of top-flight Scottish football.
He added: “My contract is until next summer so, from that perspective, it’s a big season for me.
“I have a lot of competition for my position, so I have to show myself in pre-season and in training. Hopefully I’ll get enough game time to earn a longer stay.
“I knew when I came here that I signed a one-and-a-half-year deal. Is that pressure? It’s just football.
“You’re always under pressure. You have to perform and that will determine whether you sign a new contract or if you have to move on. I don’t see that as much pressure.
“I feel good in Edinburgh, I’ve got my own place now. We’ll see about that in a couple of months but I’d be glad to stay.
“I’ve only seen the Scottish Premiership on television and heard stories. Games at Celtic Park and places like that are what you look forward to.
“It was good to experience Scottish football last season but it wasn’t at the highest level. Now we’re back at the top level and I’m looking forward to playing in the Premiership.”
* Anderson was speaking as DPS Group and Hearts launched a major sponsorship agreement to support key community football activity at Tynecastle.