Hearts defender Michael Smith insists the foundations for the ‘band of brothers’ spirit behind the Tynecastle side’s unblemished start to the Premiership were laid on the beach at Gullane.
Craig Levein’s side have so far managed to avoid the usual teething problems in gelling on the pitch despite some 18 new players having arrived since the end of last season.
Smith, a survivor from last term’s bitterly disappointing sixth place finish, is pleasantly surprised by how the newcomers have fitted in but believes a gruelling pre-season session by the seaside has helped foster an unyielding bond.
“From my experience usually takes a few months to see the benefits on the pitch but it has happened immediately.
“We did have a tough pre-season and it brought us all together.
“We are a band of brothers and that day at Gullane Beach was my hardest day in football without any exception.
“We came out of that feeling very strong and feeling better and more together.
“When we got to the beach some guys thought, ‘aw, a beach day – brilliant’; and we’re up and down sand dunes. They quickly realised we mean business this year.
“We went to a hotel afterwards for lunch and everyone was just silent.
“Everyone was just knackered. It was great though, everyone had got through it and pulled each other through – the attitude within the changing room is brilliant.
“You get a tough day on a Saturday and you know that you can pull someone through and they can pull you through.
“It helps knowing that you have those people out on the pitch.”
On the road
Smith is hoping Hearts have rectified their away day issues having already collected victories at Hamilton, Kilmarnock and Motherwell this term.
The Gorgie outfit only managed to win four games from 20 games on the road during the entire 2017/18 campaign
He added: “We know our home form from last season was fantastic, it was the away form that was killing us.
“We seem a lot more solid and it’s basically a whole new squad.
“The lads that have come in have a great attitude and mentality, not to mention their ability.
“They can play, that has made us a lot more solid.
“It is nice (being at the top). It is a lot nicer than last season but we’ve got to stay grounded.
“Some fans get carried away but we know it is only five games in and there is a long way to go.
“It is nice at the minute and we just need to see where it takes us.”
The form of Scotland striker Steven Naismith and Uche Ikpeazu in attack has been pivotal to Hearts’ start and Smith admits the fact that they are not lamenting fellow countryman Kyle Lafferty’s departure to Rangers this season is an indiction of how strong the squad is.
Lafferty was the focal point in attack last season after notching 19 goals.
Smith added: “Kyle wasn’t even starting anyway – was on the bench. He scored a lot of goals for us last year and we hadn’t really had a lot of goals from elsewhere in the team.
“This year, Naisy’s popping up, Uche’s popping up, Olly Lee – they’ve been brilliant.
“We’ve made some great signings and they’re all helping us. There’s goals coming from everywhere and we’re just getting on with it.
“There’s been no ifs or buts. We’ve no qualms about Kyle leaving. He did really well for us but he wanted to go, and that’s it.”