BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
JAMIE Walker believes the Tynecastle crowd could prove key to Hearts’ hopes of going a step further in the Europa League.
After last Thursday’s goalless trip to Malta to face Birkirkara, the Gorgie outfit are well placed to progress to the third qualifying round and a tie with Russians Krasnodar.
However, after witnessing the dogged way tonight’s opponents set out to frustrate in their home leg seven days ago, Walker is fully aware Hearts are unlikely to get things all their own way again this evening.
A big home crowd could unsettle Birkirkara and their game-plan, but expectations of victory are such that there also remains the danger the Hearts support could work against their team if patience wears thin.
“We were the better team in the first leg and we created the better chances,” insisted Walker. “So we are confident going into the second leg at Tynecastle and we’re looking forward to it.
“With the crowd behind us and the bigger pitch – and cooler weather – hopefully we can grab an early goal.
“Patience will be key. They are going to sit in and knock the ball from side to side. Hopefully the fans can stick with us as well and we can repay them.
“I thought (Birkirkara) were okay. They were well organised. Everyone knew what they were doing and they had some experienced boys. But I thought we were the better team and we deserved more than a draw.
“I’m enjoying playing in Europe, it’s something different from the Premiership and if we win we have a great tie to look forward to in Russia.”
Walker was a big miss for Hearts last season when he was forced to sit out the whole of November, December and January because of a knee injury that eventually required surgery to remove a piece of bone affecting his tendon.
The 23-year-old netted five times in just seven games after his return and finished the campaign strongly, but has revealed he continues to suffer from pain in the joint and has to complete extra exercises to keep on top of the problem.
He added: “I was out for three months and I have been working on it for three months. I still have to do work every day, just in case, to protect it.
“I am short of my maximum and I get sore after a game. But every morning I am in rehab working on my squats and I’ll keep doing it through the season to keep the pain away.
“It’s my first time getting injured but it’s part and parcel of the game and I just have to work hard and get fit.”