ANDY HALLIDAY has credited his upturn in form to a timely dressing down from Hearts manager Robbie Neilson.
The former Rangers and Livingston man endured criticism following his initial outings in maroon, with the player readily admitting he struggled to get upto speed following his arrival at the end of September last year.
The 29-year-old’s showing in the Jambos’ breathless 5-3 win over Ayr United — the hosts were 2-1 down deep into the second period at Tynecastle — was a particular lowlight in those early weeks.
And Halliday has praised Neilson for telling him some home truths which, allied with gradually finding more match sharpness, inspired him to step up his performances.
Ironically, it was the return fixture against Ayr United last Friday night when Halliday turned in one of his most impressive showings for the capital club.
He will seek to continue that momentum when Hearts face Queen of the South tonight.
“I have seen players in the past who missed pre-season and you try to be patient with them,” recalled Halliday. “But you do think: ‘How long is it taking them to get up to speed?’
“But it is difficult, I missed pre-season and I found my recovery in the first ten games or so quite tough.
“I was disappointed with some performances, especially against Ayr at home, and the manager had some stern words for me. That’s probably what I needed. He said to me I was doing fine but he didn’t bring me in to be ‘fine’ and he needed more.
“That gave me the kick up the backside I needed and I feel I have improved in the last few games. I still feel I can do even better.”
Halliday’s early travails brought about some premature judgements from unimpressed supporters but, having experienced life at Ibrox, that was water off a duck’s back for a player used to exacting standards.
“I’m fine with that. If you play for big clubs, you get big expectations,” he added. “I’m my own worst critic and I always know when I’ve let myself down.”
Now, however, there appears to be a burgeoning partnership with the immensely talented playmaker Andy Irving at the base of Hearts’ 4-2-3-1.
Halliday provides the graft, Irving takes care of the craft.
And he is hopeful the Jambos hierarchy succeed in tying his young teammate to a new contract, with director of football Joe Savage holding further talks with the player on Thursday.
“Andy has really impressed this year,” continued Halliday. “I’ll hold my hands up and say he is someone that I didn’t know too much about before coming to the football club.
“He has progressed throughout the season. At the start, he was finding himself but around November he really grabbed a hold of that jersey. Hopefully Hearts can get that done.
“I really hope [he will sign a new deal] because, being at Hearts, I want to keep our best players — and he certainly fits the bill.”
Meanwhile, Hearts boss Neilson has expressed his hope that the Scottish FA can find a way to play the Scottish Cup to a finish, emphasising its importance to the sporting calendar.
Football below the Championship remains on an indefinite hiatus following an announcement this week, with the situation to be revisited on March 1. However, the governing body’s marquee competition appears under serious threat this term.
That would be a hammer-blow to Neilson, who has repeatedly spoken of his desire to enjoy another memorable run after Hearts were beaten finalists against Celtic in the past two editions. They are due to face Brora Rangers in the second round.
“For me, the Scottish Cup’s a very important event in the Scottish calendar,” he said. “We all look forward to it and, historically, it’s got a massive part to play in Hearts’ story — so I hope it carries on.
“What kind of guise it will carry on in? I’m not sure, but I’d like to see it completed.
“It just depends on what the dates are like and when teams come back. I know they’ve been talking about March 1, but teams need to train before they start playing their games, and they need to find dates to play it. It’s going to be difficult.”