BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Sandy Clark believes Hearts can underline their European credentials with a win over Aberdeen as two of his former clubs clash at Tynecastle.
The Jambos enjoyed a blistering start to the season, registering five wins out of five on their return to the top-flight and prompting tentative title talk.
However, their winning run was brought to a shuddering halt with recent reverses against Hamilton and Inverness – the first time they have suffered consecutive league defeats since March 2014.
As they seek to bounce back from those set-backs, their challenge could hardly be tougher, with league leaders Aberdeen arriving in the capital to defend their 100 per cent record.
And Clark, who made 165 appearances as a player for Hearts before a 13-month stint as manager, believes the Jambos’ aspirations for the season will be much clearer by the time the full-time whistle sounds on Sunday.
He told Capital City Press: “I think Hearts will finish in the top six, which is tremendous when you consider they only won promotion last year. The club have invested very well and they had a great start, with five wins out of five.
“But they have had a hiccup and now people will be asking the questions: ‘Can they sustain a challenge to be in the top three or four?’ Sunday will be a guide to that.
“Robbie [Neilson] will be disappointed to not have picked up any points from games against Hamilton and Inverness when he may well have been looking for at least four.
“This is a chance to bounce back in a wonderful fixture.”
The Dons have a miserable record in Gorgie, having registered just one victory at Tynecastle in their last 11 visits.
You need to go back to January 2010 for an Aberdeen triumph, with goals from Fraser Fyvie, now at Hibs, Darren Mackie and Derek Young securing a 3-0 win over Csaba Laszlo’s Jambos.
Clark continued: “I don’t think it’s just Aberdeen who have struggled. It’s a difficult place to go and get a result, particularly when you go to play a Hearts team who have had a really good start to the season.
“Because the crowd are right on top of you, I think players enjoy playing in that environment.
“But there’s no doubt that it gives the Hearts players more of a lift.”
Clark also boasts experience on Aberdeen’s payroll, spending four years on Jimmy Calderwood’s coaching staff and helping the Dons secure European qualification twice.
However, the current squad at Pittodrie are dreaming of a far greater achievement as they emerge as bona fide title challengers.
Clark, now assistant manager of Dunfermline Athletic, continued: “Aberdeen have had a brilliant start to the season and thrown down the gauntlet with their result against Celtic.
“However, if you are going to win leagues then you need to win the matches like Hamilton in midweek – that was a difficult and dangerous fixture but they handled it really well.
“That augurs well for them and they are in a great position.”
He added: “It looks a great game on paper, there’s no question about that – and it’s an impossible one to call.”