BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
TOSH McKINLAY still cherishes his two good seasons as a Hearts player.
The only problem, he jokes, is that he was at Tynecastle for SIX.
Nevertheless, modesty aside, the 53-year-old still managed to play his part in a title charge in Gorgie, as a 15-game unbeaten run prompted talk that Joe Jordan’s Jambos could unseat big-spending Rangers.
Crowds swelled and momentum built until the wheels came off in spectacular fashion with a 4-0 defeat in January 1992. Goals from Paul Mason, Scott Booth, and an Eoin Jess brace dealt a blow from which Hearts would not recover. They went on to finish as runners-up to the Gers.
Fast forward to the present day and, despite a 3-1 reverse at Ibrox prior to the international break, Hearts are once again topping the table and sparking suggestions they could emerge as genuine challengers for the Premiership crown.
Just like 26 years ago, they are facing the Dons this weekend, before a run of four matches that include Celtic twice and city rivals Hibernian.
“If you want to go on and win Championships and cups, it doesn’t matter when you play these teams, you have to go out and beat them,” said McKinlay, who made more than 200 appearances for the capital club.
“Hearts are doing very well at the moment but it’s a tough test coming up for Craig Levein and his players and we’ll see how they cope with it.
“It’s a long season and the league is a marathon. Celtic are still in charge at the moment and someone has to knock them off their pedestal.
“I was part of a title challenge there. We went 15 games unbeaten under Joe Jordan, until the wheels came off a bit against Aberdeen at Tynecastle. But that season we finished runners-up to Rangers and the place was packed out every week and momentum really built.
“It’s a great arena to play your football when things are going well and I had a couple of really good seasons at Hearts – even though I was there for six!”
And McKinlay has nothing but praise for the job his former Hearts teammate Craig Levein is doing in Gorgie.
“He’s a strong character, just as he was as a team-mate,” continued McKinlay. “He was opinionated, and was a fantastic player.
“He would have gone to one of the top clubs in England if it wasn’t for [knee ligament] injury. Hearts are his club, he’s back there and doing a fantastic job and knows what is required at Tynecastle – that’s for sure.”