Steven Naismith hails new-found winning mentality at Hearts

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STEVEN NAISMITH insists the new-found winning mentality at Hearts will ensure they are not content to make up the numbers against Celtic.

The Jambos skipper is no stranger to Hampden glory, having won the League Cup twice and lifted the Scottish Cup back in 2008/09 when Rangers narrowly defeated Falkirk.

And he is adamant reaching the showpiece occasion means nothing unless you are the team holding the trophy aloft come full-time.

Hearts striker Steven Naismith is approaching full fitness | Hearts news
Naismith and his Hearts team-mates face Celtic on Sunday

That win-at-all costs mentality has not always been evident among Naismith’s Tynecastle teammates in recent disappointing campaign, culminating in Hearts’ contentious relegation to the Championship last term.

However, the Scotland international has felt a sea-change this term.

Craig Gordon is back, Christophe Berra has returned from the exile imposed upon him by former boss Daniel Stendel, Peter Haring is fully fit and Michael Smith has emerged as a dressing room inspiration.

Boss Robbie Neilson, meanwhile, won this competition as a player.

Leaders one and all, and not be content to play the role of plucky losers.

“The mentality has changed this season,” said Naismith honestly. “There are more boys with a competitive edge. “In life in general, you have people who want it and other people who want it more.

“You’ve got to have more of those players who will do anything to win. You can’t have players saying: ‘Oh, we did well, we were unlucky, it was a good day’. That isn’t good enough. You’re still a loser. Simple as that.

“I’ve been there. I’ve been on the winning side. They are the best memories you’ll make in football. Whether that be a League Cup a Scottish Cup or a title – they’re the best days in your football career.”

Given Naismith’s impressive medal collection – he boasts three top-flight titles to go with his cup triumphs – he has experienced the heady mix of excitement and pressure which precedes a showpiece occasion plenty of times before.

But he admits that captaining the Jambos at Hampden makes it all the more special.

“It’s different being skipper, which is something I’ve not done before,” explained Naismith. “That brings a bit extra but my mentality is the same – go and win because it’s there to be won.

“I’ll tell the players to make sure they enjoy it while they’re going through it.

“We’ve been in the last four semi-finals and were in the last Scottish Cup final so it could seem that it comes easy. Well, it doesn’t. You can go many years without getting close to a final. So enjoy it.

“But understand that it’s a game of football. Win it – and you can enjoy it for years to come.”

Naismith, meanwhile, has no qualms about claiming Hearts can utilise the suffocating sense of expectation on Celtic as they seek to kick-start a tumultuous campaign by securing their fourth successive treble.

FRUSTRATION

“Without a shadow of a doubt, we can use that [pressure],” he continued. “Being at the Old Firm, drawing, not creating chances and not winning is not good enough. That’s the demand that is set by both clubs.

“We’ve got to use that. We’ve got to understand the pressure on them and get the basics right.”

But Naismith has vowed that Hearts do not intend to make it the Alamo at the national stadium, emphasising the belief in the camp that players such as Liam Boyce, Jamie Walker and himself can hurt the Hoops.

“We’ll get good chances,” he added. “Building the frustration is an element of it but the best way to beat Rangers or Celtic is to keep the ball.

“We can’t get sucked into just kicking the ball long. We’ve got good players and need to show that. We can use the confidence we’ve built this season.”